Jordan warns of regional tension before Ramadan as Gaza war truce efforts intensify

Qatar expected to host new round of talks next week as US says mediators 'came to understanding'

An Israeli tank stationed on the border with Gaza. AFP
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King Abdullah of Jordan warned on Sunday of an explosion in regional tension if a ceasefire in Gaza is not reached before Ramadan starts in two weeks.

The warning came amid conflicting reports that international efforts to secure a truce had made progress.

King Abdullah told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting in Amman that continuation of the war into Ramadan "will raise the danger of expansion of the conflict", according to the Royal Palace.

"His majesty affirmed ... the need to exert all efforts to reach an immediate ceasefire," a palace statement said.

Earlier, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said that "with Ramadan around the corner", continued fighting risks "the regional situation exploding".

“What is happening is a crime against humanity,” he said, calling on international powers to end the war.

On the weekend, security talks between the US and others in Paris appeared to make progress by securing another round of discussions in Qatar.

“The representatives of Israel, the United States, Egypt and Qatar met in Paris and came to an understanding among the four of them about what the basic contours of a hostage deal for temporary ceasefire would look like,” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN.

While Mr Sullivan refused to put a percentage on the chances of a deal being reached, he made it clear that Washington wanted Israel and Hamas to reach an agreement soon.

“The United States position in this is clear, we would like to see this deal get done,” Mr Sullivan said.

“We would like to see the hostages returned, including American hostages, and we would like to see a temporary ceasefire which will alleviate the suffering of the people in the Gaza Strip, innocent civilians, women and children.

“So we are telling everyone including the Israeli government that it is our firm position that every effort be exercised to get to this agreement.”

On Sunday, Israel's war cabinet approved the decision to send a delegation to Doha next week to discuss a ceasefire and prisoner swap.

But Hamas said the reports of progress towards an agreement were untrue.

Hamas said on Sunday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been evading the “most important demands of the resistance to stop the aggression”, as Israeli air strikes continued to pound the enclave at the weekend.

Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly said he would not stop the war in Gaza until the Israeli military has achieved its stated aim of wiping out Hamas in retribution for the October 7 attacks that killed about 1,200 people in southern Israel.

Israel's air strikes and ground incursion in Gaza have killed more than 29,600 people, mostly civilians, and spilt over into a regional crisis that has seen fighting between Iran and its proxy militias against the US and Israel across the Middle East.

Jordan, which governed the West Bank between 1948 and 1967, has repeatedly called for a ceasefire.

The kingdom has been parachuting in limited aid to Gaza and urged the US, its principal ally, to urge Israel to avoid escalating the war, especially in the occupied West Bank.

Amman has not been at the centre of the negotiations to end the war, which have been mediated mainly by the US, Egypt and Qatar.

Their efforts appeared to be making progress on Saturday when Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said that “there is probably room to move towards an agreement”.

He was speaking after Israeli security officials returned from Paris, where they met American, Qatari and Egyptian officials.

But Israeli officials believe any deal will not prevent the military's expected attack on Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians are sheltering with nowhere to flee.

The international community, including the US, has warned against an assault on the city, where Israel claims Hamas fighters are hiding.

A draft UN resolution put forward by the US “determines that under current circumstances a major ground offensive into Rafah would result in further harm to civilians and their further displacement, including potentially into neighbouring countries”.

This month, Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz warned that Israeli forces would attack Rafah before the start of Ramadan, about March 10, unless Hamas released its remaining hostages.

Jordanian researcher Hazem Ayyad, a Palestine specialist, said that the approach of Ramadan combined with US opposition to the offensive could harm Israel's negotiating position.

Increased tension in Ramadan could encourage more Palestinians in the occupied West Bank to take up arms against Israel, putting pressure on the Israeli government and “boosting the negotiating position of the resistance”, Mr Ayyad told The National.

Hamas wants any prisoner release to be followed by talks about a permanent ceasefire, although it might be “flexible about the numbers”, he said.

Hamas holds more than 100 hostages taken on October 7. Any truce deal is expected to include an exchange of hostages in return for Israel releasing Palestinian detainees.

Updated: February 25, 2024, 7:57 PM