White House: Gaza ceasefire 'up to Hamas'

CIA Director William Burns indicated that the weekend talks in Cairo involving Israel, Hamas and Qatar were “intense” but that it was too early to say whether they would be fruitful.

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters: “At the end of the week, Hamas was given an offer. Now it's up to Hamas to make a decision.” Kirby declined to provide details about the proposed deal, explaining that it would be “one of the surest ways to blow it up.”

This is the first official US confirmation that Burns has traveled to the Egyptian capital to participate in the talks.

CNN cited a source familiar with the Cairo discussions as saying that CIA Director Bill Burns has proposed a new plan to fill gaps in talks brokered in Cairo to reach a cease-fire and release Israeli hostages.

The proposal includes pushing Israel to release a large number of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of 40 Israeli hostages held during the first phase of a three-phase ceasefire agreement.

The US wants to allow Palestinians in northern Gaza who fled the south to return to their homes in the north unhindered, the source said.

A diplomat familiar with the negotiations said Israel had insisted on vetting Palestinians heading north.

As for possible next steps, one source said all had agreed to study the new US proposal, which would be communicated to the Hamas leadership in Gaza, which would ultimately make decisions on the movement's behalf. Given the difficulties in communicating with Hamas leaders, who are believed to be hiding in Gaza's extensive underground tunnel network, it could take several days to get a response.

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A senior Hamas official told CNN that the group would return to Cairo “as soon as the opportunity arises,” but he could not provide a specific timeframe for when this would happen.

Burns' dispatch came days after U.S. President Joe Biden spoke by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at which time he warned of a change in U.S. policy if Israel did not take additional steps to protect civilians in Gaza.

Kirby pointed out that Israel is now taking major steps to provide aid to Gaza, as requested by Biden and Netanyahu. He said: “Yesterday we saw more than 300 trucks entering Gaza, which is progress. But their numbers must increase and these measures must be sustained to address the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza.”

Israeli officials are due to visit the White House in the coming days to hear US concerns about the proposed Israeli attack on Rafah.

Kirby explained that Israel's announcement over the weekend to withdraw its forces from Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip indicates that the Rafah operation is now on the table.

He continued: “We do not support a major ground operation in Rafah. We see no indication that a major ground operation is imminent, or that these forces are being redeployed to carry out these types of ground operations.”

On the other hand, the Israeli prime minister announced on Monday that a date has been set for an attack on the town of Rafah, south of the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu did not specify a date, but reiterated in a video clip that victory over Hamas militants would require “entering Rafah and eliminating the terrorist forces there,” adding, “It will happen. The date is set.”

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