US says Gaza captive deal 'possible,' with 'tremendous' benefits

AFP , Monday 12 Feb 2024

The United States said Monday it still sought a deal to free Gaza captives after a deadly Israeli strike in crowded Rafah freed two captives, as it renewed warnings over a wider Israeli operation.

Palestinians inspect the damage to residential buildings where two Israeli hostages were reportedly held before being rescued during an operation by Israeli security forces in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Monday, Feb. 12, 2024.AFP

Sources familiar with developments said that CIA Director William Burns is expected Tuesday in Cairo for a new round of talks on a Qatari-mediated deal after Israel rejected the initial response last week from Hamas.

"There were a number of really untenable items in the proposal that came back from Hamas, but we do believe that a deal is possible and we're going to continue to pursue it," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.

"We think the benefits of a pause and a deal for hostages are tremendous, not just obviously for the hostages who would be released but also for the humanitarian effort in Gaza and for our ability to begin to pursue a real and lasting, sustainable resolution of this conflict," he said.

The proposal -- first thrashed out in talks in Paris that brought together Burns with top Israeli, Qatari and Egyptian officials -- would temporarily pause fighting in return for Hamas freeing captives.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after talks last week with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, rejected the Hamas counterproposal and vowed to deal a "fatal blow" to the militants, who carried out a massive October 7 Al-Aqsa Flood operation inside Israel.

Israel on Monday welcomed back two captives after overnight bombing in Rafah that killed around 100 people, including captives.

The strikes came hours after Netanyahu spoke by telephone with President Joe Biden who said the United States opposed an assault on Rafah -- where more than one million Palestinians have sheltered since the start of the four-month war -- without a plan for civilians' safety.

"It's not our assessment that this airstrike is the launch of a full-scale offensive happening in Rafah," Miller said.

"We will make clear -- as we did last weekend, as the president did in his conversation over the weekend -- that without such a plan that is credible, and that they can execute, we do not support a full-scale military operation there going ahead," he said.

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