CAIRO: Hamas urged Palestinians on Wednesday to march to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque at the start of Ramazan, raising the stakes in negotiations for a truce in Gaza.

The call by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh followed comments by Biden, broadcast on Tuesday, that there was an agreement in principle for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas during Ramazan, while prisoners held by the Palestinians are released.

Biden said he hoped such an agreement, which a source said would also allow more aid into the stricken Palestinian enclave and bring the release of Palestinians prisoners, could be finalised by March 4, a few days before the start of fasting month.

Israel said it would allow Ramazan prayers at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque but set limits according to what it called security needs, setting the stage for possible clashes if crowds of Palestinians turn up and Gaza war is still raging.

“This is a call on our people in Jerusalem and the West Bank to march to Al Aqsa since the first day of Ramazan,” Haniyeh said in a televised speech. He said Hamas was showing flexibility in talks with Israel but at the same time it was ready to continue fighting.

“It is the duty of the Arab and Islamic nations to take the initiative to break the starvation conspiracy in Gaza,” he said, referring to what Palestinians say appears to be a deliberate policy by Israel to deny them food.

Moscow talks

On Thursday, representatives of Hamas and Fatah will meet in Moscow to discuss the formation of a unified Palestinian government and the rebuilding of Gaza, the Russian news agency, RIA Novosti, reported on Wednesday, citing the Palestinian ambassador to Russia.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov also confirmed to RIA Novosti that such a meeting was planned.

Palestinian health officials said the death toll has surged to 29,954. Many others are buried beneath the rubble of ruined buildings across Gaza.

Published in Dawn, February 29th, 2024

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