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Families of hostages call for Israel and Hamas to accept cease-fire proposal pushed by Biden

Netanyahu: No cease-fire until objectives achieved
Netanyahu indicates no cease-fire until Israel's objectives are achieved 02:27

The families of Israeli hostages held by Hamas called for all parties to immediately accept the three-phase deal outlined by President Biden Friday to end the nearly 8-month-long war and bring their relatives home.

However, in a statement Saturday, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a permanent cease-fire in Gaza a "nonstarter" until long-standing conditions for ending the war are met, appearing to undermine the deal Biden had announced as an Israeli one.

"Israel's conditions for ending the war have 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," the statement said. "Under the proposal, Israel will continue to insist these conditions are met before a permanent cease-fire is put in place."

U.S., Egypt and Qatar — all of whom have been involved in brokering talks between Israel and Hamas since the war began — issued a joint statement later Saturday in which they called "on both Hamas and Israel to finalize the agreement embodying the principles outlined by President Biden," emphasizing that "these principles brought the demands of all parties together in a deal that serves multiple interests and will bring immediate relief both to the long-suffering people of Gaza as well as the long-suffering hostages and their families. This deal offers a roadmap for a permanent ceasefire and ending the crisis."

On Friday, Mr. Biden outlined the deal proposed by Israel to Hamas, saying the militant group is "no longer capable" of carrying out another large-scale attack on Israel. He urged Hamas to come to an agreement to release some 100 remaining hostages, along with the bodies of around 30 more, in exchange for an extended cease-fire in Gaza.

"Israel has offered a comprehensive new proposal," Mr. Biden said. "It's a roadmap to an enduring cease-fire and the release of all hostages. This proposal has been transmitted by Qatar to Hamas."

Following Mr. Biden's speech, hostage families told the Associated Press that time was running out with the onus on both Israel and Hamas to accept the deal.

"We want to see people coming back from Gaza alive and soon," Gili Roman told the AP. His sister, Yarden Roman-Gat, was taken hostage and freed during a weeklong ceasefire in November, but Yarden's sister-in-law, Carmel Gat, is still being held.

"This might be the last chance to save lives. Therefore, the current state must be changed and we expect all to adhere to Mr. Biden's call for accepting the deal on the table, immediately. There is no other way towards a better situation for all. Our leadership must not disappoint us. But mostly, all eyes should be on Hamas," he said.

Cease-fire talks ground to a halt last month after a major push by the U.S. and other mediators to secure a deal in hopes of averting a full Israeli invasion of Gaza's southern city of Rafah. Israel says the Rafah operation is vital to uprooting Hamas fighters responsible for the Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel that triggered the war. Israel on Friday confirmed its troops were operating in central parts of the city.

The proposal came after what hostage families said was a contentious meeting Thursday with Israel's national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, who told them that the government wasn't ready to sign a deal to bring all of the hostages home and that there was no plan B.

Hanegbi said this week he expects the war to drag on for another seven months, in order to destroy the military and governing capabilities of Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad militant group.

Netanyahu has promised a "total victory" that would remove Hamas from power, dismantle its military structure and return the hostages.

Israel war cabinet minister Benny Gantz Saturday called for the cabinet and the negotiation team to convene.

"We are committed to continue advancing an arrangement to return the hostages as formulated by the negotiation team and approved by the War Cabinet unanimously, as part of the wider effort to achieve all of the war's objectives," Gantz said in a statement.

Many hostage families blame the government's lack of will to secure a deal for the deaths of many of the hostages in captivity.

"We know that the government of Israel has done an awful lot to delay reaching a deal and that has cost the lives of many people who survived in captivity for weeks and weeks and months and months. Our hearts are broken by the amount of people we will receive that are no longer alive," Sharone Lifschitz, told AP. Her mother Yocheved was freed in the November cease-fire, and her father Oded is still in captivity.

The first phase of the deal announced by Mr. Biden would last six weeks and he said it would consist of a "full and complete cease-fire," the withdrawal of Israeli forces from all populated areas of Gaza and the release of a number of hostages – including women, the elderly and the wounded – in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. American hostages would be released in this stage, the president said. In the first phase of the proposal, Palestinian civilians would also return to their neighborhoods "in all areas of Gaza." Humanitarian aid would also surge.

In the second phase, Israel and Hamas would negotiate for a permanent end to hostilities, Mr. Biden said. This phase will also include the release of all remaining living hostages and a withdrawal from Gaza, as long as the proposal is honored.

The third phase calls for the start of a major reconstruction of Gaza, which faces decades of rebuilding from the devastation caused by the war.

Mr. Biden acknowledged that keeping the Israeli proposal on track would be difficult, saying there were a number of "details to negotiate" to move from the first phase to the second. Mr. Biden said that if Hamas fails to fulfill its commitment under the deal, Israel can resume military operations.

Hamas said in a statement Friday it viewed the proposal outlined by Mr. Biden "positively" and called on the Israelis to declare explicit commitment to an agreement that includes a permanent cease-fire, a complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, a prisoner exchange and other conditions.

While the proposal is similar to previous ones, the main difference is the readiness to stop the war for an undefined period, according to analysts. It still leaves Israel the option to renew the war and diminish Hamas' ability to govern, but over time, Michael Milshtein, head of the Palestinian Studies Forum in Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, told the AP.

Still, experts say Mr. Biden's speech was one of the first times in the war that provided hope that it might end and bring the hostages home.

"It was a very good speech ... it seems that Biden is trying to force it on the Israeli government, he was clearly speaking directly to the Israeli people," said Gershon Baskin, director for the Middle East at the International Communities Organization. Israelis must take to the streets to demand that the government of Israel accept it, he said.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called it an "urgent hope" for lasting peace. She said Saturday it was up to Hamas to show they want to end the conflict.

Fighting continues in Gaza

On Saturday, Israel's army said it killed a Hamas fighter responsible for directing attacks in Israel and the West Bank and earlier this week, it said its aircraft killed a Hamas fighter in central Gaza who was head of the technology department for the group's internal security forces.

Also on Saturday, Egypt's state-run Al-Qahera News said officials from Egypt, the United States and Israel would meet in Cairo over the weekend for talks about the Rafah crossing, which has been closed since Israel took over the Palestinian side of it in early May. The meeting comes a week after Mr. Biden discussed the closure of the crossing in a call with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

Israel launched its war in Gaza after Hamas' Oct. 7 attack in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killed some 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and abducted about 250. More than 36,170 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza by Israel's campaign of bombardment and offensives, according to Gaza's Health Ministry. Its count does not differentiate between civilians and combatants.

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