DUBAI/CAIRO/RAFAH, Gaza Strip, Feb 27 (Reuters) – Israel and Hamas, as well as Qatari mediators, all sounded notes of caution on Tuesday about progress towards a truce in Gaza, after U.S. President Joe Biden said he believed a ceasefire could be reached in under a week to halt the war for Ramadan.

Hamas is now weighing a proposal, agreed by Israel at talks with mediators in Paris last week, for a ceasefire that would suspend fighting for 40 days, the first extended truce of the five-month-old war. Both sides have delegations in Qatar this week hammering out details.

According to a source close to the talks, the Paris proposal would see militants free some but not all of the hostages they are holding, in return for the release of hundreds of Palestinian detainees, a surge in humanitarian aid for Gaza and Israeli troops pulling out of populated areas in the enclave. 

But it appears to stop short of satisfying Hamas’s main demand for any agreement to include a clear path towards a permanent end to the war and Israeli withdrawal, or resolving the fate of fighting-aged Israeli men among the hostages. 

In remarks broadcast on a late-night talk show after midnight on Tuesday, Biden said Israel had already agreed to halt fighting in Gaza for Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, which is expected to begin in two weeks, on March 10. 

“Ramadan is coming up, and there’s 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 NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers”. 

Earlier on Monday, Biden said he hoped a ceasefire agreement would be nailed down by March 4: “My national security adviser tells me that they’re close. They’re close. They’re not done yet. My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire.”

But Qatar, which has acted as the main mediator, said a breakthrough had yet to be reached.

“We don’t have a final agreement on any of the issues that are hampering reaching an agreement. We remain hopeful, not necessarily optimistic that we can announce something today or tomorrow. But we remain hopeful that we can get to some kind of agreement,” said Majed Al Ansari, spokesperson for Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

Two senior Hamas officials told Reuters that Biden’s remarks appearing to suggest that an agreement had already been reached in principle were premature.

There were “still big gaps to be bridged”, one of the Hamas officials told Reuters. “The primary and main issues of the ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces are not clearly stated, which delays reaching an agreement.”

Israel did not comment directly on Biden’s remarks, but government spokesperson Tal Heinrich said any deal would still require Hamas to drop “outlandish demands, in another orbit, another planet”.

“We are willing. But the question remains whether Hamas are willing,” she said. “If Hamas can come back down to reality, we will be able to have a deal.”

Israeli news website Ynet quoted unidentified senior Israeli officials as saying they did not understand “what (Biden’s) optimism is based on”.


In Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are now sheltering on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip, Rehab Redwan despaired at the prospect of a truce that would not end the war and lead only to renewed fighting. The war’s only ceasefire so far collapsed in November after just a week. 

“We hope it will be a permanent ceasefire. We don’t want to go back to war because war after the first truce destroyed us and destroyed our houses,” said Redwan, who fled her home in Khan Younis and is now living in a roadside tent.

“Can you imagine – there’s no food, nothing to drink. There are no basics for life,” she added, saying she wanted to go back home even if it was now nothing but rubble. 

Israel has said it will consider only temporary pauses, and will not end the war until it eradicates the militant group which attacked Israeli territory on Oct. 7.

According to the senior source close to the talks, the draft proposal now on the table is for a 40-day truce during which Hamas would free around 40 hostages – including women, those under 19 or over 50 years old, and the sick – in return for around 400 Palestinian detainees, at a 10-for-one ratio.

It does not appear to resolve the fate of hostages who are fighting-aged Israeli men, believed to account for more than half of those still held after Hamas released more than 100 women, children and foreigners during November’s short truce.

Israel would reposition its troops outside of settled areas. Gaza residents, apart from men of fighting age, would be permitted to return home to areas previously evacuated, and aid would be ramped up, including urgent supplies to house the displaced. 

Hamas killed 1,200 people and captured 253 hostages on Oct. 7, according to Israeli tallies, triggering a ground assault on Gaza. Health authorities in the enclave say nearly 30,000 people have been confirmed killed.