Mediators urge Israel, Hamas to finalize peace deal


Israeli police remove a person protesting against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government as demonstrators call for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group, in Tel Aviv, Israel, June 1, 2024. [AP Photo]

The mediators of the war in Gaza on Saturday called on Israel and Hamas to finalize the deal outlined by U.S. President Joe Biden.

In a joint statement, Qatar, the United States and Egypt said that "as mediators in the ongoing discussions to secure a cease-fire in Gaza and the release of hostages and detainees," they "call on both Hamas and Israel to finalize the agreement embodying the principles outlined" by Biden on Friday.

Biden said the peace deal would  involve an initial six-week cease-fire with a partial Israeli military withdrawal, and the release of some hostages, while "a permanent end to hostilities" is negotiated through mediators.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his position Saturday, saying that Israel’s conditions for ending the war had not changed: "the destruction of Hamas' military and governing capabilities, the freeing of all hostages and ensuring that Gaza no longer poses a threat to Israel."

Two right-wing members of his Cabinet, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich threatened Saturday to bring down Netanyahu’s government if he were to agree to Biden’s proposal.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid urged Netanyahu to take the deal and offered to support the prime minister if Ben Gvir and Smotrich bolted.

"I remind Netanyahu that he has our safety net for a hostage deal," Lapid said on the X platform, the former Twitter.

The families of the hostages pressed Israel and Hamas to agree to the deal and rallied again on Saturday in Tel Aviv for the return of the hostages.

For its part, Hamas said Friday it was ready to engage "positively and in a constructive manner." But senior official Mahmoud Mardawi said in a Qatari television interview that the group had not yet received the details of the proposal.

"No agreement can be reached before the demand for the withdrawal of the occupation army and a cease-fire is met," he said.

Hamas’ terms call for an end to the war and Israel’s full troop withdrawal from Gaza.

US peace proposal

Biden’s three-phase cease-fire deal would begin with a six-week temporary pause in fighting, which he said would lead to a more permanent cessation of hostilities with Hamas.

The first phase would include a "full and complete cease-fire," Biden said in remarks at the White House on Friday. That would mean the withdrawal of Israeli forces from all heavily populated areas of Gaza, the release of some hostages, including women, the elderly, the wounded and American citizens, in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.

Additionally, Israel would allow more humanitarian assistance into Gaza and the return of Palestinian citizens to their homes and neighborhoods in all areas of Gaza, including in the north.

After the initial six-week pause in phase one, phase two would see Israeli forces withdrawing completely from Gaza, in exchange for the release of all remaining hostages held by Hamas, including male Israeli soldiers.

"I’ll be honest with you, there are a number of things to be negotiated to move from phase one to phase two," Biden cautioned.

The president said that as long as negotiations continue, the cease-fire would hold, even if talks dragged out past the initial six weeks. He said mediators from the United States, Egypt and Qatar would continue until all parties are in agreement.

In the third and final phase, a "major reconstruction plan for Gaza would commence, and any final remains of hostages who've been killed will be returned to their families."

Many details about the implementation of the agreement remain unclear. Biden envisioned the deal leading to a potential "historic" normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, but it is not clear how and when this will be achieved.

There is also lack of clarity as to who will govern Gaza, said Gerald Feierstein, director of the Middle East Institute’s Arabian Peninsula Affairs Program.

Fighting rages

In southern Gaza, residents reported tank fire on Saturday in west Rafah and shelling in the east and central parts of the city. In northern Gaza, residents of Beit Hanun were told to evacuate. Beit Hanun is a 15-minute drive from Jabalia where Israeli troops have been carrying out a three-week ground operation, according to reports from Agence France-Presse.

Cairo will host a meeting with Israeli and U.S. officials on Sunday to discuss reopening the Rafah crossing, according to Egypt’s Al Qahera TV. Israel seized the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings in early May. Both are along the Gaza-Egypt border. Kerem has been reopened, Israel says, but the U.N. says little to no humanitarian aid has gotten through. The two crossings are important ports of entry to food, fuel, medicine and other supplies.

Since Hamas launched a terror attack October 7 on Israel, killing about 1,200 people and taking roughly 250 hostages, Israel has embarked on an offensive to eliminate Hamas from Gaza. In recent weeks, Israel says its forces have killed 30,000 people, the majority of them combatants. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says 36,284 people have been killed, most of them women and children, but does not estimate how many of the dead were combatants.