February 22, 2024

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Israel awaits Hamas' response to ceasefire plan: live updates

Israel awaits Hamas' response to ceasefire plan: live updates
A destroyed building in Rafah, Gaza, on Sunday.credit…Haitham Emad/EPA, via Shutterstock

Israel was waiting on Monday for Hamas officials to respond to a proposal to stop fighting in the Gaza Strip and release the remaining hostages there, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken returned to the region seeking to drum up support for such a deal.

Al-Aqsa TV, affiliated with the Hamas movement, reported on Sunday that Hamas was still conducting consultations on the proposal, a week after it was drafted. The group's leaders had previously indicated that there were large gaps between the two sides, even as representatives of the United States, Egypt and Qatar sought to find common ground.

Mr. Blinken, who was scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia first, hopes to advance talks on a series of interlocking deals to end the war in Gaza, and an agreement to release the hostages will be key to that effort.

Jake Sullivan, President Biden's national security adviser, told CBS' “Face the Nation” on Sunday that “the ball is in Hamas' court.”

He added that the agreement that would release the hostages, stop the fighting, and allow humanitarian aid to reach Gaza is of utmost importance.

“We will push for this relentlessly, as the president has done, including in his recent calls with the leaders of Egypt and Qatar, the two countries that are our lead mediators in this effort,” Sullivan said.

The Hamas-led attacks on October 7, during which Israeli officials said about 1,200 people were killed and more than 200 others were taken hostage, sparked a war with Israel and sparked a broader crisis in the Middle East. Israel exchanged fire with members of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Houthi militia, which controls part of Yemen, opened fire on ships traveling to and from the Suez Canal.

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Other Iranian-backed militants have launched attacks on US bases in the region, including an attack that the Biden administration recently said killed three US soldiers in Jordan.

The United States responded to Houthi attacks with repeated strikes, including on Sunday, and to the Jordanian attack with a separate series of military strikes this weekend against Iranian forces and the militias they support in seven locations in Syria and Iraq. Senior US national security officials said on Sunday that further retaliation against Iranian-backed militias remains planned.

But Mr. Sullivan said he believed those efforts were a separate issue from the talks aimed at reaching a ceasefire agreement that has eluded both sides since a week-long pause in November.

“We believe that the steps we took on Friday and the steps we took against the Houthis last night are not related to the hostage negotiations,” he told NBC's “Meet the Press.” “We believe that now, at this stage, it is up to Hamas to come forward and respond to what is considered a serious proposal.”