Gaza ceasefire deal with Israel still not close, says senior Hamas official

Senior official Basem Naim says there is ‘space for flexibility’, but Hamas wants guarantee of a total ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli troops.

Displaced Palestinians in Rafah
Palestinians in Rafah walk past the rubble of a house destroyed by an Israeli strike, amid the ongoing war on Gaza [File: Saleh Salem/Reuters]

A senior official from the Palestinian group Hamas has dampened hopes of an immediate ceasefire deal with Israel, saying there was still a long way to go before an agreement could be secured.

“The gap is still wide. We have to discuss a lot of points with the mediators,” Basem Naim, the head of political and international relations for Hamas, told Al Jazeera from Istanbul on Wednesday.

This comes after United States President Joe Biden said he hopes to have a ceasefire in Israel’s war on Gaza by next Monday, with negotiations appearing to have gathered pace.

However, Naim said the Biden administration’s optimistic posture was not “related to the reality on the ground” and has more to do with domestic political considerations in a US election year.

“If the Americans want to be really optimistic, they have to end their game of double standards,” he said.

“They talk on one hand for stopping the aggression or for achieving a ceasefire and avoiding broadening the conflict into the region. But at the same time they are using the veto in the UN Security Council,” Naim said. “They are approving $14bn for Israel, they are securing Israel with more ammunitions.”

Naim had previously told Al Jazeera late on Tuesday that Hamas had not yet received an official truce proposal, but that meditators were working with the Israeli side to cement one.

While Hamas was willing to be flexible on some aspects of a potential deal, it would not do so at the expense of its “main, strategic goals”, Naim said.

He said the Palestinian group’s non-negotiable demands include: A final and total ceasefire, and not just a humanitarian pause; the total withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza; and freedom of movement for Palestinians within Gaza.

Naim said Hamas was willing to be flexible on the timing and sequencing of its demands, as long as the total ceasefire begins on day one of the implementation of any agreement.

‘Space for flexibility’

With regards to the exchange of prisoners and captives and plans for Gaza’s reconstruction, “there is some space for flexibility”, Naim added.

“Hamas has shown great flexibility from the beginning to achieve a ceasefire because we know every added day to this slaughter means 100 to 150 more Palestinian civilians killed,” the official said.

“People in the northern part of Gaza are dying because of starvation. We know exactly what this means. Our families are still there.”

Naim said Hamas is also seeking guarantors such as Egypt, Qatar, Turkey, the United Nations, the US and Russia to ensure and verify that any deal is upheld by Israel.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said that the group was ready to continue fighting if necessary, even if it showed flexibility in its negotiations with Israel.

Speaking from Beirut, he called on the Iran-led political and military coalition known as the “axis of resistance” to step up its support for Gaza through political leverage, money and weapons.

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

Haniyeh added that Israel is committing the worst atrocities known to humanity, including the extermination and displacement of civilians, and that any flexibility shown in negotiating with Israel must be matched by his group’s willingness to defend the Palestinian people.

The Hamas leader called for Palestinians to march on Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem on the first day of Ramadan, which is likely to be on March 10, in protest at continued restrictions placed by Israel on access for Palestinians to the Muslim holy site.

“The siege of Al-Aqsa and the siege of Gaza are one and the same,” Haniyeh said.

Since October 7, Israel’s war on Gaza has killed nearly 30,000 people – most of them women and children – and displaced most of the population of the besieged strip. Some 1.5 million are sheltering in the city of Rafah, on the border with Egypt, as Israel threatens a ground invasion there.

Source: Al Jazeera