DISPLACED Palestinian girls carry bread to feed their families, in the Rafah area of southern Gaza Strip, on Wednesday.—AFP
DISPLACED Palestinian girls carry bread to feed their families, in the Rafah area of southern Gaza Strip, on Wednesday.—AFP

• Netanyahu rejects ‘bizarre demands’ of ceasefire
• New round of talks begins today
• UN chief warns assault on Rafah will have ‘untold’ consequences
• Hamas wants 135-day truce, with complete Israeli pullout

JERUSALEM: While US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday to discuss a counter proposal by Hamas for a ceasefire, the Israeli premier rejected the “bizarre demands” and ordered troops to “prepare to operate” in Rafah.

However, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned of “untold regional consequences” if the Israeli armed forces press on into the southern city, noting that the world was entering “an age of chaos”.

Before flying to Jerusalem, the US top diplomat told reporters in Doha there was “still a lot of work to be done. But we continue to believe that an agreement is possible and indeed essential, and we will continue to work relentlessly to achieve it”.

Netanyahu, however, told a televised press briefing on Wednesday that he had ordered troops to “prepare to operate” in Rafah and that a “total victory” by Israel over Hamas was just months away. He said accepting the Palestinian group’s “bizarre demands” for a ceasefire would not lead to the return of prinsoners. “It will only invite another massacre,” he remarked.

New round of negotiations

On the other hand, Egypt and Qatar are sponsoring a new round of negotiations to start Thursday in Cairo aimed at achieving “calm” in Gaza as well as a prisoner exchange, an Egyptian official said.

The Egyptian official said Cairo was urging “both parties to show the necessary flexibility” to achieve a truce in Hamas-run Gaza, where the health ministry says nearly 28,000 Palestinians have been killed in past four months.

A Hamas source with knowledge of the matter confirmed the group had agreed to the talks, with the goal of “a ceasefire, an end to the war and a prisoner exchange deal”.

Hamas proposes 135-day truce

Hamas has given a counter proposal to quiet the guns in Gaza for four-and-a-half months, during which all prisoners would be released, Israel would withdraw its troops from the Gaza Strip and an agreement would be reached on an end to the war.

Israel’s Channel 13 cited a senior official as saying some of the demands presented by Hamas were not acceptable to Israel, without providing details. Israel has previously said it will not pull its troops out of Gaza until Hamas is wiped out.

The report quoted the unidentified official as saying Israeli authorities would debate whether to reject Hamas’s proposals outright or ask for alternative conditions.

But the Hamas offer, in a document seen by Reuters and confirmed by sources, appears to finesse Hamas’s longstanding demand for a full end to the war as a pre-condition before releasing prisoners it seized on Oct. 7 in the raid that precipitated Israel’s assault.

According to the document, during the first 45-day phase, all Israeli women prisoners, males under 19 and the elderly and sick would be released, in exchange for Palestinian women and children held in Israeli jails. Israel would withdraw troops from populated areas.

UN chief says world in ‘age of chaos’

In a relevant development, UN secretary general warned that if the Israeli armed forces press on into the southern city of Rafah, it will “exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare with untold regional consequences.”

“It is time for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the unconditional release” of all prisoners, Guterres said during a speech to the General Assembly presenting his 2024 priorities.

“This is not the first time the council has been divided — but it is the worst. Today’s dysfunction is deeper and more dangerous.

“Our world is entering an age of chaos…, a dangerous and unpredictable free-for-all with total impunity,” he warned.

Meanwhile, Israeli strikes on a south Lebanon village killed one civilian and injured two others on Wednesday, Lebanon’s state media said.

Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2024

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