Hamas opens wide pathway for Gaza ceasefire deal


Hamas said its "positive" response to a US ceasefire plan for the war in the Gaza Strip opened a "wide pathway" to reach an agreement, but the outlook was uncertain as neither the Palestinian group nor Israel publicly committed to a deal.

Hamas submitted its formal response on Tuesday to a proposal outlined by US President Joe Biden on May 31. Israel said the response was tantamount to a rejection while a Hamas official said the Palestinian group merely reiterated longstanding demands not met by the current plan.

Egypt and Qatar said they had received Hamas' response but did not disclose the contents.

Early on Wednesday, Izzat al-Rishq, a member of Hamas' political bureau, said in a statement the group's answer was "responsible, serious and positive" and "opens up a wide pathway" for an accord.

Another Hamas official, who declined to be identified, told Reuters the response reaffirmed the movement's stance that a ceasefire must lead to a permanent end to hostilities in Gaza, withdrawal of Israeli forces, reconstruction of the Palestinian enclave and release of Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

"We reiterated our previous stance. I believe there are no big gaps. The ball is now in the Israeli courtyard," the official said.

The US has said Israel accepted its proposal, but Israel has not publicly stated this. As Israel has continued assaults in central and southern Gaza that are among the bloodiest of the war, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said Israel would not commit to an end of its campaign in Gaza before Hamas is eliminated.

An Israeli official said on Tuesday the country had received Hamas' answer via the mediators and that Hamas "changed all of the main and most meaningful parameters."

The Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Hamas "has rejected the proposal for a hostage release that was presented by President Biden."

Earlier a non-Israeli official briefed on the matter, who declined to be identified, said Hamas proposed a new timeline for a permanent ceasefire with Israel and withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, including Rafah.

On Monday, the UN Security Council voted in favor of a US resolution supporting the proposal outlined by Biden. Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters on Tuesday that Hamas accepted the Security Council resolution and was ready to negotiate over the details of a ceasefire.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Tel Aviv to meet Israeli officials on Tuesday, described the comments by Hamas as a "hopeful sign" but said they were not conclusive.

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