Biden says hopes for Gaza ceasefire soon as Hamas mulls draft truce proposal

By Samia Nakhoul and Jeff Mason

DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Israel has agreed to halt its Gaza attacks for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, U.S. President Joe Biden said, adding that he hoped a temporary ceasefire will take hold next week as Hamas reviewed a truce deal that includes a prisoner-hostage swap.

Biden’s remarks, which were recorded on Monday and were due to be broadcast later on Tuesday, come as negotiators try and hammer out a truce deal in the conflict which has raged since October last year.

A senior source close to the talks told Reuters that the Islamist group, which Israel has vowed to annihilate, was studying a draft proposal that includes allowing in a significant amount of humanitarian aid, as well as swapping Palestinian prisoners in exchange for hostages captured in the Hamas attack that triggered the war.

The proposal is the most serious attempt in weeks to halt the fighting, and comes ahead of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and with international pressure mounting on Israel to stop the killing of Palestinian civilians. Ramadan this year is expected to begin on the evening of March 10th.

“Ramadan is coming up, and there‚Äôs been an agreement by the Israelis that they would not engage in activities during Ramadan, as well, in order to give us time to get all the hostages out,” Biden said during an appearance on NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers”.

U.S. and Israeli officials discussed a ceasefire proposal last week with Qatari and Egyptian mediators at a meeting in Paris. Delegations from Hamas and Israel are both in Qatar this week for so-called proximity talks, held in the same city through mediators.

Biden, who is running for re-election, told NBC there was an agreement in principle for a ceasefire between the two sides while hostages were released, adding that he hoped to have a ceasefire in the conflict by the following Monday.

“There are too many innocent people that are being killed. And Israel has slowed down the attacks in Rafah,” Biden said, adding that Israel had committed to make it possible for Palestinians to evacuate from Rafah in Gaza’s south before intensifying its campaign there to destroy Hamas.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected as “delusional” Hamas’ last offer for a ceasefire, during which all hostages would go free, Israel would withdraw its troops from Gaza and an agreement would be reached on an end to the war.

On NBC, Biden said that a temporary ceasefire would jumpstart a process for Palestinians to have their own state. Netanyahu, however, has rejected a two-state solution.

The new proposal now being weighed by Hamas included some of Hamas’ initial demands for a ceasefire, and limited the exchange of Palestinian prisoners for Israeli hostages to a ratio of 10 to one, the senior source close to the talks said.

The draft states Hamas would free 40 Israeli hostages including women, children under 19, elderly over 50 and the sick, while Israel would release around 400 Palestinian prisoners and will not re-arrest them, the source told Reuters.

Mediators have ramped up efforts to secure a ceasefire in Gaza, in the hope of heading off an Israeli assault on the Gaza city of Rafah where more than a million displaced people are sheltering at the southern edge of the enclave.

After Hamas killed 1,200 people and captured 253 hostages on Oct. 7, Israel launched a ground assault on Gaza, with nearly 30,000 people confirmed killed, according to Gaza health authorities.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Miral Fahmy and Peter Graff)

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