US lawmakers hopeful of pause in Gaza war before Ramadan

February 21, 2024 - 9:57 AM
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Israeli soldiers operate near the Israel-Gaza border as smoke rises over Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from Israel, February 20, 2024. (Reuters/Susana Vera)

 Two senior U.S lawmakers who held talks with Israeli and Arab leaders said on Tuesday that they were hopeful a deal could be struck allowing a humanitarian pause in the war in Gaza before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

In an interview with Reuters in Amman, Democratic Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Coons – who said they had earlier met Jordan’s King Abdullah and held talks with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem – said there was “broad hope” of a deal soon to release hostages held by Hamas in exchange for a pause in fighting.

“Within a matter of weeks we could see a pause before Ramadan,” Blumenthal, who is on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Reuters.

Arabs countries led by Jordan have expressed worries that Israel‘s continued offensive against Hamas during the holy month of Ramadan could ramp up tensions further in the war.

But Egyptian and Qatari-mediated talks to reach a ceasefire in Gaza and secure the release of over 100 Israeli hostages being held in the Hamas-ruled territory have yet to produce results. A round of inconclusive talks in Cairo ended last week.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Israel would not pay any price for the return of hostages, saying the way to free them was by ramping up the military pressure on Gaza and defeating Hamas.

Still, Blumenthal said that talks with Israeli leaders suggested that Israel is open to a pause as it wraps up a phase of intense fighting in Gaza and moves to a potential focus on counter-insurgency combat instead.

“Once there is that agreement on a pause it opens the way towards a negotiation that could produce self governance by the Palestinians, a state that gives them control over their own destiny,” Blumenthal said.

But an Israeli offensive in Rafah, the southern Gaza city where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have sought refuge, would complicate efforts toward a halt in the fighting and the senators warned that Israel had an obligation to protect civilians and allow for relocations before moving on Rafah.

“There is an attempt to balance between supporting Israel and its war against Hamas and supporting the legitimate aspirations of Palestinian people for self governance and end of conflict,” Coons said.

— Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi, editing by Deepa Babington