In first, US describes Hamas response to Israeli ceasefire offer as a ‘rejection’
Israel at warIsraeli delegation said set to visit US for talks on Iran

In first, US describes Hamas response to Israeli ceasefire offer as a ‘rejection’

State Department spokesperson says terror group’s response with a counter-proposal amounted to ‘written rejection’ of deal that received strong international backing

A Hezbollah drone is seen being shot down by air defenses over northern Israel, June 23, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
A Hezbollah drone is seen being shot down by air defenses over northern Israel, June 23, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

WASHINGTON — The United States characterized Hamas’s last response to Israel’s proposal for a ceasefire and hostage deal in Gaza earlier this month as a rejection of that offer for the first time Tuesday, as Washington appeared to harden its rhetoric against the terror group.

Hamas on June 11 said a proposal laid out by US President Joe Biden and backed by Israel did not meet its demand for a complete end to the war in Gaza, responding to the offer with significant amendments that mediators have struggled to bridge. Israel has insisted it will fight till Hamas is destroyed over its devastating October 7 attack on the country.

The terror group “came back several weeks ago and rejected the proposal that was on the table,” US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said during a press briefing Tuesday.

“They gave us a written response that rejected the proposal put forward by Israel, that President Biden had outlined, that the United Nations Security Council and countries all around the world had endorsed,” he added, calling it a “written rejection and counter-proposal that came from Hamas.”

The comment marked the first time that a US official had publicly gone so far. To date, only Jerusalem has branded the Hamas response as a rejection. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken two weeks ago criticized Hamas’s counter-proposal as including changes that are “not workable,” but insisted the gaps were still bridgeable.

Egyptian and Qatari mediators have been in contact with Hamas over the past two weeks in an attempt to bridge the gaps with Israel.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity to The Times of Israel, suggested that the shift in rhetoric out of Washington is part of an effort to further isolate Hamas and provide Iran-backed Hezbollah an “off-ramp” to taper off its cross-border attacks on northern Israel that threaten to ignite a full-blown war.

The US has placed a major emphasis on keeping tensions on Israel’s northern border from snowballing into all-out war, working to broker a long-shot diplomatic deal while pinning its hopes on a ceasefire in Gaza leading to the restoration of calm between Israel and Lebanon-based Hezbollah.

Israel’s latest ceasefire and hostage deal proposal, some of whose details were presented by US President Joe Biden last month, reportedly provides for a temporary ceasefire in the first phase of the deal, to be extended into “a sustainable calm (cessation of military operations and hostilities permanently)” in the second phase. However, Netanyahu has repeatedly denied that the proposal provides for ending the war before Israel achieves its two declared goals of destroying Hamas and bringing home all the hostages.

The IDF launched its offensive in Gaza after thousands of Hamas-led terrorists rampaged across southern Israel on October 7, killing some 1,200 people and kidnapping 251. The government says the war will continue until Hamas is completely destroyed and the hostages are freed or released.

Iran-proxy Hezbollah began firing rockets and launching drones at northern Israel on October 8, aiming to put pressure on Israel’s military in support of Hamas, but has indicated that the attacks will stop should the fighting in Gaza end. Near-daily skirmishes and cross-border fire on the northern border halted during a week-long truce in November, but efforts to secure a fresh deal have yet to bear fruit.

An Israeli delegation will soon visit Washington for a meeting of the Strategic Consultative Group on Iran, with the sides planning the talks after deliberations set for last week were delayed, according to Hebrew media reports.

The White House has said the meeting set for last week was pushed off due to a scheduling conflict, strongly denying it was canceled out of pique after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly accused the Biden administration of holding up arms deliveries to Israel.

A new meeting hasn’t been actually rescheduled, but the sides have agreed to meet in the coming weeks, a US official told The Times of Israel. Senior Israeli and US officials said a date is expected to be set for July before Netanyahu is due in Washington where he will address a joint session of Congress on July 24, the Axios website reported.

The Israeli delegation will be led by National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, according to Axios. Both were in Washington last week for talks on the situation with Hezbollah.

So far, the skirmishes on the border have resulted in 10 civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of 15 Israel Defense Forces soldiers and reservists. There have also been several attacks from Syria, without any injuries. The Hezbollah attacks have displaced tens of thousands of residents from local towns and communities, and caused huge amounts of damage to homes and national parks.

Hezbollah has named 349 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 64 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and dozens of civilians have been killed.

Israel is also worried about Iran’s nuclear activities.

Iran has been ratcheting up its enrichment of uranium in recent months and barring International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors from visiting its nuclear sites, drawing censure from the Group of Seven as well as the IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors.

On Tuesday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during a meeting in Washington that “time is running out” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. PJC

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