World

Israel ready to halt war during Ramadan if hostage deal reached, says Biden

Negotiators from the US, Egypt and Qatar are working on a framework deal under which Hamas would free some of the dozens of hostages it holds.

A poster depicting Israeli hostage Alon Ohel is displayed in Re’im, southern Israel, at the Gaza border on Monday (Maya Alleruzzo/AP)
Israel Palestinians A poster depicting Israeli hostage Alon Ohel is displayed in Re’im, southern Israel, at the Gaza border on Monday (Maya Alleruzzo/AP) (Maya Alleruzzo/AP)

US President Joe Biden said Israel would be willing to halt its war on Hamas in Gaza during the upcoming Muslim fasting month of Ramadan if a deal is reached to release some of the hostages held by the militants.

Negotiators from the US, Egypt and Qatar are working on a framework deal under which Hamas would free some of the dozens of hostages it holds, in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners and a six-week halt in fighting.

During the temporary pause, negotiations would continue over the release of the remaining hostages.

If a deal is reached in the coming days, this timeline would include Ramadan, which starts around March 10.

Mr Biden’s comments in an interview recorded on Monday for NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers show were the most detailed yet about a possible halt in fighting during the holy month — a time of heightened religious observance and dawn-to-dusk fasting.

President Joe Biden talks with Seth Meyers during a taping of the Late Night with Seth Meyers (Evan Vucci/AP)
Election 2024 Biden President Joe Biden talks with Seth Meyers during a taping of the Late Night with Seth Meyers (Evan Vucci/AP) (Evan Vucci/AP)

“Ramadan’s coming up and there has been an agreement by the Israelis that they would not engage in activities during Ramadan as well, in order to give us time to get all the hostages out,” Mr Biden said.

Israeli officials said Mr Biden’s comments came as a surprise and were not made in co-ordination with the country’s leadership.

A Hamas official played down any sense of progress, saying the group will not soften its demands.

The start of Ramadan is seen as an unofficial deadline for a ceasefire deal. The month is a time of heightened religious observance and dawn-to-dusk fasting for hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world.

Mr Biden said on Monday that he hopes a ceasefire deal could take effect by next week and that he believes Israel has slowed its bombardment of Rafah.

“They have to and they have made a commitment to me that they’re going to see to it that there’s an ability to evacuate significant portions of Rafah before they go and take out the remainder Hamas … but it’s a process,” he said.

Negotiations were still under way in Qatar on Tuesday.

A senior official from Egypt has said the draft deal includes the release of up to 40 women and older hostages in return for up to 300 Palestinian prisoners – mostly women, minors and older people.

The Israeli officials said Israel wants a deal immediately, but that Hamas continues to push excessive demands. They also said Israel is insisting that female soldiers be part of the first group of hostages released under any truce deal.

Roughly 130 hostages remain in Gaza, but Israel says about a quarter of them are dead.

Hamas official Ahmad Abdel-Hadi indicated that optimism on a deal is premature.

“The resistance is not interested in giving up any of its demands, and what is proposed does not meet what it had requested,” he told the Pan-Arab TV channel Al Mayadeen.

Hamas has previously demanded that Israel end the war as part of any deal, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called “delusional”.

A Palestinian woman prays for a relative killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip in Khan Younis on Monday (Hatem Ali/AP)
Israel Palestinians A Palestinian woman prays for a relative killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip in Khan Younis on Monday (Hatem Ali/AP) (Hatem Ali/AP)

Meanwhile, the Hamas-run Health Ministry said the bodies of 96 people killed in Israeli bombardments have been taken to hospitals in the war-ravaged Gaza Strip in the past 24 hours, along with 144 injured.

The new fatalities take the death toll in the strip to 29,878 since the Israel-Hamas war began on October 7, the ministry said in its daily briefing. The ministry does not differentiate between civilians and combatants, but said two-thirds of the dead were children and women.

Another 70,215 people have been wounded in the war, it said.

The ministry said many casualties remain under the rubble and rescue workers have been unable to retrieve them amid the relentless bombing.

Elsewhere, Israeli troops shot and killed three Palestinian men in the occupied West Bank early on Tuesday, Palestinian health authorities said.

The military wing of the militant group Islamic Jihad claimed the three as members.

One of those killed, identified as Mohammed Daraghmeh, 26, was a co-founder of the local branch of Islamic Jihad in the northern town of Tubas, the group said.

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said the men, who ranged in age from 26 to 32, were shot in the head, chest and neck.

Palestinian media reported that they were killed in the Faraa refugee camp near Tubas.