Five Arab states urge warring sides to accept Biden's Gaza ceasefire proposal

Foreign ministers urge both sides to engage with truce plan 'seriously and positively' in joint statement

A protester dressed as Lady Liberty at a march calling for a ceasefire and hostage deal, and early elections in Israel, outside Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on Saturday. EPA
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Arab countries urged the warring parties in Gaza to accept the ceasefire deal proposed by US President Joe Biden at the weekend.

Foreign ministers from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt urged Israel and Hamas to engage with the proposal "seriously and positively" in a statement issued after online talks on Monday.

It held the meeting to discuss mediation efforts undertaken by Egypt, Qatar and the US to reach a ceasefire in Gaza, where Israel continues to push on with its offensive despite mounting international pressure to bring an end to the fighting.

"The foreign ministers of the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Jordan affirmed their support for these efforts," the statement said.

The three-phase plan announced by Mr Biden on May 31 would involve a "complete ceasefire" and increase in aid to Gaza, with the release of some of the remaining Israeli hostages held by Hamas in the first phase.

The second phase proposes a "permanent end to hostilities" and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, with the rest of the hostages released, with the final phase bringing in the reconstruction of Gaza and the return of the remaining hostages to their families.

The proposal, which Mr Biden described as an "Israeli proposal", has widened the rift among members of Israel's war cabinet.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is being pulled in different directions by the centrist and far-right members of his coalition.

Centrists Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot urged Mr Netanyahu to accept the deal and have accused him of prioritising unclear war aims over securing the release of hostages in Gaza.

Mr Gantz said he had spoken to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday and told him that Israel "is committed to returning the hostages and views it not only as a superior moral responsibility, but a priority on the war’s timeline".

But far-right ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich have threatened to bring down the government if Mr Netanyahu accepts any deal with Hamas, and urged him to pursue the war in Gaza to its end.

On Monday, Mr Smotrich called Mr Biden's suggestions "an offer of surrender" and repeated threats to leave government if it was accepted.

On the same day, Mr Netanyahu appeared to reject the full deal, stating that the destruction of Hamas is "part of the proposal" – a condition to which the Palestinian group would not agree.

"The outline that President Biden presented is partial," government spokesman David Mencer quoted Mr Netanyahu as saying, adding in a press briefing that "the war will be stopped for the purpose of returning the hostages", after which discussions will follow on how to achieve the Israel's goal of eliminating Hamas.

Mr Netanyahu, in a separate statement issued by his office, said "claims that we have agreed to a ceasefire without our conditions being met are incorrect".

The US insisted the deal is an "Israeli proposal". "It’s a very forward-leaning deal and it’s good for the people of Gaza, good for the Israeli people, and they just need to move forward on it," National Security spokesman John Kirby said on Monday.

Hamas, which Mr Biden said received the proposal from Qatar, released a statement reacting positively at the weekend.

According to Kobi Michael, a researcher at Israeli think tanks INSS and the Misgav Institute, Hamas's leadership "feels as if it's in a strategic comfort zone" and believes time is on its side as pressure mounts on Israel to accept a deal.

Despite the attention on the deal, Israel has continued fighting on several fronts.

On Monday, Israeli aircraft bombed the Gaza Strip, killing at least 24 people. In Rafah, where Israel launched an offensive last month, heavy shelling was reported.

Israeli missiles struck in Aleppo province in neighbouring Syria overnight, killing at least 16 people. A military source in Aleppo told The National that among the dead and wounded were fighters from Iraqi and other Iranian-backed factions.

The attack came as Iran's acting Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani met officials on his first trip to Lebanon since replacing Hossein Amirabdollahian, who died in a helicopter crash last month in Iran alongside president Ebrahim Raisi.

Mr Kani was expected to meet Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, an ally of Tehran. His group has traded cross-border fire with Israel in support of Hamas since October 8, and on Monday launched a squadron of drones against military targets in northern Israel.

Updated: June 04, 2024, 7:46 AM