Chance of Gaza ceasefire before Ramadan 'looking tough', Joe Biden warns

With negotiations stalling, hopes for a Gaza ceasefire before Ramadan are dwindling, ITV News's Caroline Lewis reports

The chances of a ceasefire agreement in Gaza being reached before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan are looking increasingly slim, raising fears of a surge in violence.

Ramadan, which is expected to begin on Sunday evening, has become an unofficial deadline for a ceasefire deal, which would see a pause in fighting and the release of more Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners.

However, with negotiations between Israel and Hamas stalling, US President Joe Biden said the chances of reaching an agreement in time are "looking tough".

Asked by reporters during a campaign stop in Philadelphia if he was concerned of a wave of violence in East Jerusalem, he said: "I sure am."

While fears have been mounting for weeks over the fate of Palestinians in the southern city of Rafah as Israel prepares for an anticipated ground assault, the significance of Ramadan has raised tensions elsewhere in the region.

ITVX explains why the holy month of Ramadan is being viewed as an unofficial deadline for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas

Violence between Israelis and Palestinians has historically escalated during the holy month, particularly over access to the Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem, the site of which is also sacred to Jews.

Tens of thousands of Muslims usually visit the mosque every day during Ramadan, but Israel, which has ultimate control over the site, has long restricted access for Palestinians over what it says are security concerns.

In 2021 clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police during Ramadan prompted Hamas to launch rockets into Israel, which was met with airstrikes that killed more than 200 Palestinians.

Since the war in Gaza broke out on October 7, Israel has imposed further restrictions, but Hamas has called on Muslims in Israel and the West Bank to march on the mosque at the start of Ramadan in a show of defiance, raising fears of tensions reaching boiling point.

The latest round of ceasefire talks with Hamas, mediated by Egypt and Qatar, to which Israel declined to send a delegation, have been suspended until next week, with no resolution in sight.

Hamas has refused to release all of the estimated 100 hostages it holds, and the remains of around 30 more, unless Israel ends its offensive, withdraws from Gaza and releases a large number of Palestinian prisoners, including senior militants serving life sentences.

The risk of starvation and disease is growing in Gaza, aid agencies have warned. Credit: AP

US officials have said that they are sceptical that Hamas actually wants a deal, because the group has balked at a number of what Washington and others believe are legitimate requests, including giving the names of hostages to be released. “It is on Hamas to make decisions about whether it is prepared to engage,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday.

“We have an opportunity for an immediate cease-fire that can bring hostages home, that can dramatically increase the amount of humanitarian aid getting in to Palestinians who so desperately need it, and can set the conditions for an enduring resolution."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly rejected Hamas' demands and repeatedly vowed to continue the war until Hamas is dismantled and all the hostages are returned.

With no sign of peace in sight, President Biden has become increasingly public about his frustration with the Netanyahu government’s unwillingness to open more land crossings for critically needed aid to make its way into Gaza.

In an address on Thursday, he called on the Israelis to do more to alleviate the suffering even as they try to eliminate Hamas.

“To Israel, I say this humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip,” said the president.

Mr Biden was caught on a hot mic saying he needs to have a "come to Jesus" meeting with Mr Netanyahu - American saying for having a blunt conversation.

The US has been airdropping aid into the Gaza Strip, and is also racing to build a temporary port on the coast of the Palestinian territory to facilitate a new maritime route for aid.

On Friday UK foreign secretary Lord David Cameron said Britain was supporting this new scheme by helping to carry out security checks of aid shipments in Cyprus before they are shipped directly across the Mediterranean to Gaza.

Mr Cameron said a lack of effort by Israel to allow more aid to reach the territory had been "frustrating", which is why the UK, US, European Union, United Arab Emirates and other partners have been working on the maritime route.

The supply of aid into Gaza was seriously impacted in January when a number of nations, including Britain, halted their funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) over claims by Israel that some of its staff participated in the October 7 attacks.

UNRWA denies collaborating with Hamas, having dismissed the accused employees as it launched an investigation.

While the organisation has still lost some of its biggest backers, the Swedish and Canadian governments have both announced they are resuming funding.

Sweden said UNWRA had given assurances of "stricter controls" in place since the allegations were made, while Canada highlighted "significant processes" the aid agency has set up to address the issue.

The Swedish government said it has received “bilateral confirmation” from UNRWA that it will allow “independent auditing, strengthen internal supervision and enable additional staff controls” CNN reports.

Around £30 million has been allocated by the Swedish government to UNRWA for 2024, half of which has been marked for “initial disbursement”, with more following as the organisation "makes progress on the measures".

Gudrun Brunegård, aid policy spokesperson for Sweden's Christian Democrats party, said: "In this acute situation, where needs among the civilian population are huge, the foremost priority is saving lives.

"UNRWA is the organisation that is best positioned to help vulnerable Palestinians."

Elsewhere, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said on Saturday that he will propose that Spain's parliament recognises a Palestinian state.

“I will propose granting Spain’s recognition to the Palestinian state,” Sánchez said.

"I do this out of moral conviction, for a just cause and because it is the only way that the two states, Israel and Palestine, can live together in peace.”

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