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Cease-fire agreed by Hamas is ‘far from Israel’s requirements,’ Netanyahu says.

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The Biden administration said it was still reviewing Hamas’ cease-fire agreement and would be discussing it with partners.

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WASHINGTON — Israel said a cease-fire proposal agreed to by Hamas didn’t meet Tel Aviv’s requirements, as Israeli forces prepared for a long-dreaded assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah

Hamas’ Monday announcement came after months of U.S. pressure on Israel for a cease-fire and as U.S. officials signaled their disapproval with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Rafah invasion plans.

Netanyahu’s office said Monday afternoon the Rafah assault would go forward. “Israel’s war cabinet has unanimously decided that Israel will continue the operation in Rafah to exert military pressure on Hamas to advance the release of our hostages, destroy Hamas’s military and governing capabilities, and ensure that Gaza does not pose a threat to Israel in the future,” a statement said.

“Meanwhile, even though the Hamas proposal is far from Israel’s requirements, Israel will send a delegation to mediators to exhaust the possibility of reaching an agreement under conditions acceptable to Israel,” the statement continued.

An Israeli official earlier told Reuters that Hamas had accepted a “softened” version of an earlier proposal, which included “far-reaching” conclusions that Israel could not accept.

“I can confirm that Hamas issued a response, and we are reviewing that response now,” State Department spokesman Matt Miller said. “We will be discussing this response with our partners over the coming hours.”

NBC reported that, under the new proposal, 33 of the more than 130 hostages taken by Hamas on Oct. 7 would be released in exchange for a 40-day truce. This is different than the six-week cease-fire proposal that had been on the table for the last few weeks, which would have led to the release of 40 hostages in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

A cease-fire deal that is accompanied by the release of additional hostages has proven elusive. Israel did not send a delegation to Cairo where this proposal was discussed.

John Kirby, the White House’s national security communications advisor, declined to discusses specifics of what Hamas has agreed to and how it might differ to an original truce proposed for Israel and Hamas.

“We want to get these hostages out. We want to get a cease-fire in place for six weeks. We want to increase humanitarian assistance. And the last thing that I want to do is say anything at this podium that’s going to put that process at risk,” Kirby said at a White House briefing.

President Joe Biden met with King Abdullah II of Jordan at the White House on Monday. CIA Director Williams Burns is currently in the Middle East working to help secure a cease-fire agreement.

Pressure for cease-fire has been building for months

Hamas’ response follows pressure from Biden on Israel to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza and to do more to protect civilians or risk a policy change from the White House, possibly regarding aid and weapons shipments.

Biden discussed the hostage negotiations that are taking place in Doha, Qatar, in a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the White House said Monday before the potential cease-fire proposal was announced.

The president also underscored his opposition to a Rafah invasion without appropriate civilian protections in a call with Netanyahu.

“The President reiterated his clear position on Rafah,” a White House statement said.

The White House statement said that Netanyahu agreed to ensure the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and Gaza is open for humanitarian assistance after a weekend rocket attack that Hamas says it was behind.

Israel has been under mounting international pressure to agree to a pause in fighting in Gaza, where the death toll has passed 30,000 and aid groups say more than 2 million people face extreme shortages of essential supplies, including food, water, medicines and fuel. A truce in November last year that facilitated the release of 100 Hamas-held hostages in exchange for 240 Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

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Hamas is believed to be holding 134 hostages, including some who are either known or thought to be deceased. Their friends and relatives in Israel and around the world have been holding non-stop rallies and public awareness campaigns to help secure their freedom since they were seized by Hamas on Oct. 7.

Israel is holding about 9,000 Palestinian prisoners, according to HaMoked, an Israel-based human rights organization. About a third of these are what Israel classes as “administrative detainees.” They are held without trial for offenses such as throwing stones or “damage to the security area.” Some are teenagers.

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Israel prepares for Rafah operation in Gaza

The Israeli military ordered residents in eastern Rafah neighborhoods to “to temporarily evacuate” to a humanitarian area outside the city early Monday.

The IDF said in a statement the area is equipped with “field hospitals, tents and increased amounts of food, water, medication and additional supplies” and that advisory to relocate was being conveyed through flyers, text messages, phone calls and in media broadcasts.

“The IDF will continue pursuing Hamas everywhere in Gaza until all the hostages that they’re holding in captivity are back home,” the statement said.

More than 1 million Palestinian civilians have sought refuge in Rafah, and the White House said Friday that it had not seen a comprehensive plan to evacuate them.

“We believe that they are going to take − Israel government is going to take our concerns into account,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a briefing. “But we have not seen a plan − a comprehensive plan.”

Biden’s call to Netanyahu coincided with Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the White House said the leaders discussed “the shared commitment of Israel and the United States to remember the six million Jews who were systematically targeted and murdered in the Holocaust, one of the darkest chapters in human history, and to forcefully act against antisemitism and all forms of hate-fueled violence.”

The president also plans to deliver remarks at a Holocaust remembrance ceremony on Tuesday.

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