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US puts pressure on Israel with Gaza ceasefire resolution as Qatar talks continue

2 min

Israel's spy chief was due to travel to Qatar on Friday for ceasefire negotiations while the U.S. planned to put a resolution calling for an immediate truce in Gaza to a vote of the U.N. Security Council, intensifying pressure on its ally.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with representatives from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, and the Palestinian Authority, in Cairo, Egypt March 21, 2024. Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein

Israel's spy chief was due to travel to Qatar on Friday for ceasefire negotiations while the U.S. planned to put a resolution calling for an immediate truce in Gaza to a vote of the U.N. Security Council, intensifying pressure on its ally.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday in Cairo he believed talks mediated by the U.S., Qatar and Egypt could still reach a ceasefire deal between the Palestinian militant group Hamas and Israel.

Negotiations in Qatar centred on a truce of around six weeks that would allow the release of 40 Israeli hostages in return for hundreds of Palestinians detained in Israeli jails, paving the way for more aid to enter an enclave where famine looms due to extreme food shortages.

"Negotiators continue to work. The gaps are narrowing, and we're continuing to push for an agreement in Doha. There’s still difficult work to get there. But I continue to believe it's possible," Blinken said.

The main sticking point has been that Hamas says it will release hostages only as part of a deal that would end the war, while Israel says it will discuss only a temporary pause.

A Palestinian official with knowledge of the mediation efforts, who declined to be identified, told Reuters that Hamas had demonstrated flexibility. Israel "continues to stall because it doesn’t want to commit to ending the war on Gaza,” the official said.

A statement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said Israel's spy chief David Barnea would travel to Qatar on Friday to meet mediators.

Meanwhile, Israel said it expected to continue attacks on Al Shifa hospital in Gaza City for a few more days. The facility, where residents reported tanks, gunfire and flames on Thursday, is the only partially working medical facility in the north of the enclave and has already been under attack for four days.

Israel says Hamas gunmen are holding out at the medical complex, something Hamas denies. Israel claims it has killed 150 fighters and captured 358 militants in and around the hospital in recent days.

U.S. EXERTS MORE PRESSURE ON ISRAEL

Washington, which traditionally has shielded Israel at the U.N., has incrementally applied more pressure to its longtime ally, and the draft U.N. Security Council resolution marked a further toughening.

The shift has coincided with rising global condemnation of the five-month-old war, Palestinian civilian deaths, domestic political opposition to U.S. President Joe Biden's stance and the prospect of a manmade famine in Gaza.

The U.N. text, seen by Reuters, says an "immediate and sustained ceasefire" lasting roughly six weeks would protect civilians and allow for the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Earlier in the war, the U.S. was averse to the word ceasefire and vetoed measures that included calls for an immediate ceasefire.

The new resolution expresses support for the talks in Qatar, freeing of Israeli hostages and release of Palestinians detained in Israeli jails. The Israeli embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

To pass in the Security Council, a resolution needs at least nine votes in favor and no veto by the U.S., France, Britain, Russia or China. European Union leaders also issued a call for an immediate ceasefire on Thursday.

The U.S. has wanted any Security Council support for a ceasefire to be linked to the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel's offensive has killed almost 32,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas.

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Daphne Psaledakis

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