After Hamas Accepts Cease-fire Proposal For Gaza War, Israel Expands Fighting

Hamas on Monday agreed to a proposal for a cease-fire in the war in Gaza, but Israel soon afterwards said it would expand its U.S.-backed offensive in the Palestinian enclave — dashing hopes that diplomacy led by the Biden administration would bear fruit soon.

Basem Naim, the chief of Hamas’ political and foreign relations department and a member of its Gaza bureau, had told HuffPost that Hamas accepted ideas crafted by Qatar and Egypt amid intensive negotiations that involved the U.S. It was “early” to reveal terms of the plan, Naim said.

Israeli officials quickly questioned the bargain to which Hamas was referring, suggesting it was nowhere near anything Israel had offered. Diplomatic sources told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that was untrue, saying the deal resembled an offer previously accepted by Israel.

Shortly thereafter, the Israeli cabinet announced that it saw Hamas’ position as “far from Israel’s necessary requirements” and it would continue ratcheting up an Israeli assault on the Gazan town of Rafah, where 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering and remaining Hamas battalions operate.

Israel will dispatch a team for discussions with their Egyptian and Qatari intermediaries with Hamas “to exhaust the possibility of reaching an agreement under conditions acceptable to Israel,” the statement added. It’s unclear how seriously the Palestinian faction or other players involved in the negotiations will now take that effort: A U.S. official told Reuters that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet ― including his rival, Washington favorite Benny Gantz ― “have not appeared to approach the latest phase of negotiations in good faith.”

The talks address the release of Israeli hostages captured by Hamas and its allies in the Oct. 7 attack that began the war, a halt to Israeli bombing and deployments in Gaza and Israel freeing Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya told Al Jazeera the agreement his group accepted envisioned a three-stage truce, culminating in a full Israeli withdrawal from the strip.

Netanyahu has repeatedly said he believes the war cannot end until he has captured Rafah and that he seeks to retain control of Gaza for years to come. He has rejected concerns from the U.S. and humanitarian groups over the devastating likely toll of invading the city, as well as U.S. suggestions to allow Palestinian self-governance in the region by entities other than Hamas.

The fast-moving developments felt like whiplash for many of those most directly affected by the conflict. Palestinians in Rafah had been panicking after receiving Israeli evacuation orders earlier in the day, then celebrated when they heard about Hamas’ agreement of a cease-fire. In Israel, protesters against Netanyahu, many of whom see him as fixated on prolonging the war and insufficiently committed to bringing home Hamas hostages, led huge demonstrations urging him to accept the agreement, only to ultimately be disappointed.