Six-week ceasefire 'basically accepted' by Israel, waiting on Hamas, US official says

The Israelis have "basically accepted" a six-week ceasefire proposal in Gaza, a senior Biden administration official told reporters Saturday. A second phase would be worked out over those six weeks "to build something more enduring."

The six-week ceasefire would allow for the release of hostages being held in Gaza and the flow of aid into the beleaguered coastal enclave.

That official said there is a "framework deal" that Israel has "more or less accepted." The sticking point, the official said, is that Hamas has not yet agreed to a "defined category of vulnerable hostages."

Palestinians walk through the destruction from the Israeli offensive in the Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip on February 29, 2024.
Palestinians walk through the destruction from the Israeli offensive in the Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip on February 29, 2024. Photo credit: Mahmoud Essa/AP via CNN Newsource

US officials said Friday that talks to reach a ceasefire agreement to halt the fighting between Hamas and Israel in Gaza by Ramadan – now just about a week away –appeared to be on track, even after more than 100 Palestinians were killed Thursday as they tried to access food in Gaza City.

On Friday afternoon, President Joe Biden called for an "immediate ceasefire."

"We're trying to work out a deal between Israel and Hamas on the hostages being returned and an immediate ceasefire in Gaza for at least the next six weeks and to allow the surge of aid to the Gaza Strip," Biden said at the White House during a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

US officials said Friday there were no indications that the discussions had been significantly derailed because of the aid site deaths but that much hinges on an expected Hamas response to what has been discussed in Paris and Doha, Qatar, in the past week. Qatar, Egypt, Israel and the US have been involved in those talks. On Thursday, a Hamas official warned, however, that the negotiations could be affected.

Officials from several countries that have been central to the ceasefire negotiations have yet to weigh in on Saturday's news.

As international efforts to broker a ceasefire continue, more talks are planned in Cairo, two sources familiar with the matter said Saturday. Negotiators from the US, Israel, Egypt and Hamas are expected to attend, a diplomatic source familiar with the discussions said. It's not clear whether Qatar will attend. Israel has asked Hamas for a list of the hostages, including who is living and who is dead.

Also on Saturday, a White House official said Vice President Kamala Harris would meet Monday with Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz amid the US push for a temporary ceasefire.

"The vice president will discuss the urgency of securing a hostage deal, which would allow for a temporary ceasefire, and the need to significantly expand and sustain aid flows into Gaza, given the dire humanitarian situation," the official said, adding that Harris would reiterate that the US is prepared to increase aid through airdrops and a maritime corridor.

Harris has been involved in the "day-after" planning for Gaza — and those discussions will continue Monday with Gantz, who is also expected to meet with national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

A senior administration official said Friday that the US is still racing to try to get a deal across the finish line by Ramadan.

Biden had said earlier in the week that he hoped there'd be a ceasefire in Gaza by Monday, but he offered a mixed assessment of that possibility Friday, saying: "I think we'll get there, but it's not there yet. And it may not get there now."

Those involved in the discussions have said an agreement would likely be implemented in multiple phases and would include a group of Israeli hostages released – including women, children, the elderly and sick hostages – in exchange for a smaller number of Palestinian prisoners than Hamas had initially demanded.

The news of the potential ceasefire came the same day the US and Jordan air-dropped humanitarian aid into Gaza, "part of a sustained effort to get more aid into Gaza, including by expanding the flow of aid through land corridors and routes," US Central Command said.

Following the airdrops, Biden said on social media the amount of aid flowing into Gaza was "not nearly enough," adding that the US "will continue to pull out every stop we can to get more aid in."

The post echoed remarks the president made at the White House on Friday: "We're going to insist that Israel facilitate more trucks and more routes to get more and more people the help they need, no excuses," he said. "Innocent lives are on the line, and children's lives are on the line."