Israel says Hamas decision to accept ceasefire deal is a ‘ruse’


Hamas says it has accepted a ceasefire deal proposed by Egypt and Qatar – as Israel suggests it will not accept the proposal in its current form.

The Palestinian militant group has issued a statement saying its supreme leader, Ismail Haniyeh, had expressed his agreement in a phone call with Qatar’s prime minister and Egypt’s intelligence minister.

A Hamas official has said the group will send a delegation to visit the Egyptian capital Cairo to discuss the ceasefire proposal and the next steps.

An Israeli official has said Hamas has agreed to a “softened” proposal which is “not acceptable to Israel”.

The official added that Hamas’ announcement “appears to be a ruse to cast Israel as the side refusing a deal”.

Egypt and Qatar have been mediating months of talks between Hamas and Israel.

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Palestinians cheer after Hamas agrees to ceasefire proposal. Pic: Reuters

Hamas has agreed to the proposed ceasefire hours after Israel ordered Palestinians to begin evacuating the southern Gaza town of Rafah ahead of an Israeli military operation.

Israel says Rafah is Hamas’ last stronghold.

News of the Hamas announcement sent people in Rafah cheering in the streets.

Details of the proposal were not immediately released, but in recent days, Egyptian and Hamas officials have said the ceasefire would take place in stages in which Hamas would release hostages it is holding in exchange for Israeli troop pullbacks from Gaza.

Palestinians in Rafah rejoice after Hamas accepted a ceasefire proposal from Egypt and Qatar. Pic: Reuters

It is not clear whether the deal would meet Hamas’ key demand of bringing about an end to the war and complete Israeli withdrawal.

Matthew Miller, a spokesperson for the US State Department, has said America will be discussing Hamas’ response to the proposed ceasefire “with our partners in the region” in the hours ahead.

However, he would not comment on Israel’s claim that Hamas had agreed to a proposal that had been “softened” compared to a framework that initially been worked on.

Mr Millar added that the US’ “top priority” is to try to reach a ceasefire agreement that will lead to release of hostages and allow for “a surge of humanitarian assistance” into Gaza.

He added that Israel’s planned Rafah offensive would make it “incredibly difficult” to sustain an increase in humanitarian assistance to Gaza.

Smoke rises from Rafah after an Israeli airstrike on the Gaza city

The ceasefire proposal agreed to by Hamas today would mark the first pause in fighting since a temporary truce ended in late November.

That week-long pause saw about 105 Hamas-held hostages released from Gaza and 240 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails set free.

Hamas said it was going into negotiations in Cairo with a “positive spirit” in a statement on Friday, adding it was “determined to secure an agreement in a way that fulfils Palestinians’ demands”.

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