US expects Israel will accept Gaza ceasefire plan if Hamas does

The US government has "every expectation" that Israel will accept a ceasefire proposal that would begin with a six-week cessation of hostilities in Gaza if Hamas takes the deal, according to National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. 

The three-part plan unveiled by President Joe Biden last week would also be a "surge" of humanitarian aid, as well as an exchange of some hostages for Palestinian prisoners before a permanent end to the war. 

The proposal, however, has met with vocal opposition from some members of Israel's government. 

The negotiations come as fighting continues in Rafah, which came under intense Israeli airstrikes over the weekend. 

According to the UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, all 36 of its shelters in the Rafah area are empty after residents were forced to flee. 

Another 1.7 million people are estimated to be displaced in Khan Younis and parts of central Gaza. 

Speaking to ABC News on Sunday morning, Mr Kirby said that the US had "every expectation" that Israel would "say yes" to the proposed ceasefire deal if Hamas accepts. 

"We're waiting for an official response from Hamas," he said, adding that the US hopes that both sides agree to start the first phase of the plan "as soon as possible". 

During that initial six-week pause in the fighting, Mr Kirby said the "two sides would sit down and try to negotiate what phase two could look like, and when that could begin".

In a televised address last week, Mr Biden said that the second phase of the plan would see all remaining living hostages returned, including male soldiers. The ceasefire would then become "the cessation of hostilities, permanently".

On Saturday, however, two far-right Israeli ministers threatened to quit and collapse the country's governing coalition if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to the deal. 

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said they were opposed to striking any deal before Hamas was destroyed.

Similarly, Mr Netanyahu has insisted that there will be no ceasefire until Hamas’s military and governing capabilities are destroyed and all hostages are released.

Hanoch Milwidsky, a senior member of the Knesset for Mr Netanyahu's Likud Party, told the BBC on Sunday that Israel's governing coalition is unified in opposition to the deal, which he called "completely unacceptable". 

"The math of the Israeli government has not changed - that means Hamas can no longer rule Gaza, can no longer have any capability, not military not any civilian capability to be in power, and all the hostages need to come back," Mr Milwidsky said. "The war will not stop until these demands are met." 

Mr Kirby, for his part, said that US intelligence now believes that Hamas has been militarily degraded to the extent that it can no longer repeat an attack such as that which its fighters conducted on 7 October. 

"We've not said that they don't still represent a viable threat to the Israeli people. Of course they do," he said. "But they don't have the military capabilities to do what they did." 

In another development on Sunday, the government of the Maldives announced it would ban Israeli citizens from the Indian Ocean island archipelago, in turn prompting a warning from Israel's foreign ministry that its citizens should avoid the country. 

About 11,000 Israelis visited the Maldives last year - less than 1% of all tourist arrivals. 

More than 36,000 people have been killed across Gaza since the start of the conflict, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

The war began in October when Hamas gunmen launched an unprecedented attack on Israel, killing about 1,200 people and taking 252 back to Gaza as hostages.

In the US, President Biden has faced growing domestic criticism over the level of US support for Israel, as well as calls to do more to encourage the warring sides to negotiate.

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