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US working on Hamas response to ceasefire proposal

THE United States said today that some of the proposed changes put forward by Hamas to a US-backed ceasefire plan were “workable” and some were not.

This comes after a massive barrage of rockets were fired into Israel by Lebanon’s Hezbollah group.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken did not spell out what the changes were. Speaking to reporters in Qatar, Mr Blinken said the US and other mediators will keep trying to “close this deal.”

Mr Blinken is in the region to push a ceasefire proposal with global support that has not been fully embraced by Israel or Hamas. 

The ceasefire plan has raised hopes of ending a conflict in which Israel’s bombardment and ground offensives in Gaza have killed over 37,000 Palestinians and driven some 80 per cent of the population of 2.3 million from their homes. 

Israeli restrictions and ongoing fighting have hindered efforts to bring humanitarian aid to the isolated coastal enclave, fuelling widespread hunger.

Israel launched its campaign after Hamas and other militants stormed into Israel on October 7, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 250 hostage. 

More than 100 hostages were released during a week-long ceasefire last year in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. Hamas is still holding around 120 hostages, a third of whom are believed to be dead.

The proposal announced by Mr Biden calls for a three-phase plan that would begin with a six-week cease-fire and the release of some hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. Israeli forces would withdraw from populated areas and Palestinian civilians would be allowed to return to their homes.

Phase two would provide for negotiations over “a permanent end to hostilities, in exchange for the release of all other hostages still in Gaza, and a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.”

Phase three would launch “a major multi-year reconstruction plan for Gaza.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right coalition allies have rejected the latest proposal and have threatened to bring down his government if he ends the war leaving Hamas intact. 

But Mr Netanyahu is also under mounting pressure as thousands of Israelis, including families of the hostages, have demonstrated in favour of the US-backed plan.

Meanwhile Lebanon’s Hezbollah fired a massive barrage of rockets into northern Israel to avenge the killing of a top commander.

Hezbollah has traded fire with Israel nearly every day since the eight-month-long fighting between Israel and Hamas began and says it will only stop if there is a truce in Gaza. 

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