Middle East

Biden says he hopes there’ll be a ceasefire in Gaza by next Monday

By Alex Marquardt and Donald Judd, CNN

CNN  —  US President Joe Biden said that he hopes there’ll be a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict by “next Monday,” as the death toll in Gaza approaches 30,000, according to health officials.

“Well I hope by the beginning of the weekend, I mean, the end of the weekend,” Biden said after being asked when a ceasefire might start during an appearance on Monday at an ice cream shop in New York City with comedian Seth Meyers. “My national security adviser tells me that we’re close. We’re close, it’s not done yet. And my hope is that by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire,” Biden added.

Earlier on Monday, CNN reported Hamas has backed off some key demands in the negotiations for a hostage deal and pause in the fighting in Gaza following Israeli accusations that its position was “delusional,” bringing the negotiating parties closer to an initial agreement that could halt the fighting and see a group of Israeli hostages released, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.

“The major obstacles have been resolved in terms of Hamas insisting on a full withdrawal of Israeli forces and end to the war,” a senior Biden administration official told CNN, following the Friday meeting in Paris between the US, Egyptian, Israeli intelligence chiefs and the Qatari prime minister.

“Hamas’ requirements for the numbers of Palestinians [prisoners that] would have to be freed has declined,” the official added.

A diplomatic source familiar with the discussions confirmed that Hamas softened its position ahead of an agreement on the first phase of a deal. Though it is expected that more challenging hurdles will emerge later when complex issues like Hamas releasing male IDF hostages and an end to the war will be discussed.

Israel was “surprised” that Biden expressed optimism for a deal on a ceasefire by Monday, an Israeli official told CNN Tuesday, but confirmed that Israel hoped a deal would initially involve the release of about 40 hostages, including female Israeli soldiers.

Israel was “surprised that he [Biden] used the word Monday and that he used the word ceasefire,” the official said, asking not to be named due to the sensitivity of the subject.

Those involved in the discussions have said an agreement would likely be implemented in multiple phases and once an initial deal is made it could lead to a truce lasting for a long as six weeks with a group of Israeli hostages released including women, children, the elderly and sick in exchange for a smaller number of Palestinian prisoners than Hamas had initially demanded.

The second phase is where discussions are expected to get even more complicated.

During a truce negotiations would take place over more sensitive topics like the release of Israeli soldiers who are hostages, Palestinian prisoners serving longer sentences, the withdrawal of IDF forces and bringing a permanent end to the war alongside the so-called “day after” issues.

The Israeli official said the country was ready to make a deal under the right terms. “Israel will be ready to release [Palestinian] prisoners even today if conditions are met,” the official said.

And the official said news reports that Israel hoped about 40 hostages would be freed in the initial stages of a deal were broadly correct. “The numbers of hostages are more or less what we see. We are insisting on getting the women soldiers,” the official said. CNN records suggest there are 13 living Israeli women still being held hostage, including five of military age.

Teams meet in Qatar

Israeli leaders have made clear they intend to launch a military offensive into Rafah while in an earlier proposal Hamas said they want to use a second phase to discuss “the requirements necessary for the continuation of the mutual cessation of military operations.”

Teams from the countries that met on Friday in Paris were meeting Monday in Doha to discuss the finer points of the broad issues discussed Friday, a sign of progress.

“We did make progress in these conversations over the weekend and the last few days” to try to reach a deal to free the hostages and secure a temporary ceasefire, State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said Monday.

“We continue to believe that a deal is possible and we’re going to continue to pursue it,” Miller said at a department briefing.

Miller added that if Hamas “truly cared about the Palestinian people, they should agree to the deal that is on the table because it will greatly alleviate the suffering of those Palestinian people.”

On Sunday, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan declined to detail the terms were being discussed but said Friday’s meeting in Paris resulted in “an understanding among the four of them about what the basic contours of a hostage deal for temporary ceasefire would look like.”

“There will have to be indirect discussions by Qatar and Egypt with Hamas because ultimately they will have to agree to release the hostages,” Sullivan told CNN. “That work is underway. And we hope that in the coming days, we can drive to a point where there is actually a firm and final agreement on this issue. But we will have to wait and see.”

Israel confirmed on Monday that they were sending a team to Doha after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday was less dismissive of where the talks stand than he has been in the past few weeks.

“They have to come down to reality,” Netanyahu said of Hamas on Fox News. “And I think if that’s the case, we’ll be able to have a deal we certainly wanted, and I wanted.

Biden acknowledged shifting support for Israel as the humanitarian death toll in Gaza continues to rise, telling Meyers it risks losing support on the international stage if the war continues at this pace.

“They have to – and they made a commitment to me they’re gonna see to it that there’s the ability to evacuate significant portions of Rafah before they go and take out the remainder of Hamas,” he said. “If it keeps this up without this incredibly conservative government they have and Ben-Gvir and others…they’re going to lose support from around the world – and that is not in Israel’s interest.”

Netanyahu is facing immense pressure from the Israeli public to free the more than 130 hostages who remain in Gaza, which includes the bodies of many who are believed to no longer be alive.

The embattled prime minister also reiterated that he plans to order the Israeli army into Rafah, which the US has warned it opposes without a firm plan that takes into consideration the safety of the around 1.5 million Palestinians concentrated there, many having fled the fighting farther north.

With or without a hostage deal, “We will do it anyway” Netanyahu told CBS News, because “total victory is our goal.”

“We can’t leave the last Hamas stronghold without taking care of it,” Netanyahu said.

This story has been updated with additional details.

CNN’s Richard Allen Greene in Tel Aviv and Colin McCullough contributed to this report.

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