Biden says Israel and Hamas 'close' to deal to halt fighting during month of Ramadan

The US president's comments of an imminent ceasefire have been dampened somewhat, after a Hamas official said a pause in fighting does not match the situation on the ground. ITV News Correspondent Robert Moore reports

President Joe Biden says Israel and Hamas are "close" to a deal to temporarily halt fighting in Gaza during the upcoming Muslim fasting month of Ramadan to facilitate the release of the hostages held by the militants.

Talks were underway Tuesday between negotiators from the United States, Egypt and Qatar are working on a framework deal under which Hamas would free some of the dozens of hostages it holds, in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners and a six-week halt in fighting.

During the temporary pause, negotiations would continue over the release of the remaining hostages.

Biden’s comments in an interview taped Monday for NBC’s Late Night With Seth Meyers were the most detailed yet about a possible halt in fighting during the holy month, a time of heightened religious observance and dawn-to-dusk fasting.

“Ramadan’s coming up and there has been an agreement by the Israelis that they would not engage in activities during Ramadan as well, in order to give us time to get all the hostages out,” Biden said on the talk show.

The US president said that a deal is "close" and added that his "hope is that by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire."

Biden said he believes Israel has slowed its bombardment of Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost town along the border with Egypt, where 1.4 million Palestinians have sought safety.

“They have to and they have made a commitment to me that they’re going to see to it that there’s an ability to evacuate significant portions of Rafah before they go and take out the remainder of Hamas," he said. “But it’s a process.”

Around 1.5 million people are now living in the city of Rafah, many in refugee camps. Credit: AP

The start of Ramadan, which falls around March 10, is seen as an unofficial deadline for a ceasefire deal but Israel is yet to confirm details of the pause.

Meanwhile UK Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell has said a pause in the conflict that could pave the way to a sustained ceasefire is "in reach right now".

Mr Mitchell, who acts as Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron’s deputy in the Commons, said the most effective way to end the fighting is to "agree an immediate humanitarian pause.“

“This would allow for the safe release of hostages and a significant increase in the aid going to Gaza," he added.

A senior official from Egypt has said the draft deal includes the release of up to 40 women and older hostages being held by Hamas in return for up to 300 Palestinian prisoners - mostly women, minors and older people.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said earlier that the army had presented to the War Cabinet its operational plan for a ground offensive into Rafah.

The situation in Rafah, where dense tent camps have sprouted to house the displaced, has sparked global concern and Israel’s allies have warned that it must protect civilians in its battle against Hamas.

Palestinians wait for humanitarian aid on a beachfront in Gaza City. Credit: AP

Israel's air and ground offensive has driven around 80% of Gaza's population from their homes, putting hundreds of thousands at risk of starvation and the spread of disease.

The Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza says nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been killed since the fighting began in October, with two-thirds of those killed reportedly women and children.

The ministry's death toll doesn't distinguish between civilians and combatants. Israel says its troops have killed more than 10,000 militants, without providing evidence.

The Hamas attack in southern Israel on October 7 killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and about 250 hostages were taken to Gaza by militants.

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