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Biden Admin Continues Pushing Gaza Ceasefire Proposal Despite Hamas Rejection, Israeli Reservations

US President Joe Biden speaks on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in this White House handout image taken in the Oval Office in Washington, US, April 4, 2024. Photo: The White House/Handout via REUTERS

The Biden administration is still publicly pressuring both Israel and Hamas to accept a ceasefire deal unveiled by US President Joe Biden last week to end the fighting in Gaza, despite the Palestinian terror group seemingly rejecting the proposal and issuing statements irreconcilable with Israel’s position.

Leaders of Hamas, which rules Gaza, have for months refused to make concessions for a truce, insisting on a permanent ceasefire and full Israeli withdrawal in order to reach an agreement. The Islamist terror group, which launched the ongoing war with its Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, has argued that the current iteration of the ceasefire deal does not guarantee either condition.

“We informed the mediators that we could not agree to a deal that would not guarantee a permanent ceasefire and a complete withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, along with a serious prisoner deal,” senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan told a televised press conference earlier this week.

On Thursday, Hamdan dismissed the terms of the ceasefire as “just words.”

“There is no proposal — they are just words said by Biden in a speech,” he told AFP. “So far, the Americans have not presented anything documented or written that commits them to what Biden said in his speech.”

Another senior Hamas official, Sami Abu Zuhri, welcomed what he called “Biden‘s ideas” but similarly said Hamas’ demands were not met.

“The Israeli documents speak of open-ended negotiation with no deadline, and it speaks of a stage during which the occupation regains its hostages and resumes the war,” he told Reuters, referring to the hostages who Hamas terrorists kidnapped and brought to Gaza on Oct. 7. “We had told the mediators that such a paper wasn’t acceptable to us.”

Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh echoed those sentiments on Wednesday in what appeared to be the terrorist group’s reply to Biden’s proposal.

In a speech last Friday, Biden disclosed that a day earlier, a new three-phase Israeli proposal for a hostage deal was passed onto Hamas through Qatar and detailed some of its main terms.

Biden said the deal would “bring all the hostages home, ensure Israel’s security, create a better day after in Gaza without Hamas in power, and set the stage for a political settlement that provides a better future for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

The first phase of the ceasefire plan, as described by Biden, would last six weeks and include a “full and complete ceasefire” between Israel and Hamas and the “withdrawal of Israeli forces from all populated areas of Gaza.” It would also include the “release of a number of hostages” in exchange for “the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.”

During this six-week period, Israel and Hamas would negotiate the “necessary arrangements” in order to transition to the second phase and a “permanent end” to the war, including a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, Biden explained.

One sticking point could be whether Hamas is allowed to remain in power in Gaza.

Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza and the mastermind of the Oct. 7 massacre, asserted that the group will not accept any ceasefire deal that requires disarmament. 

“Hamas will not surrender its guns or sign a proposal that asks for that,” Sinwar said this week, according to the Wall Street Journal

Meanwhile, Israeli officials have also expressed reservations about the current version of the ceasefire deal, despite Biden describing it as an Israeli proposal. Israel has suggested the deal could prevent the Jewish state from achieving its war aims of freeing the hostages and eradicating the Hamas terror threat from its border.

On Saturday, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement saying that any deal must allow for “Israel to continue the war until all its objectives are achieved, including the destruction of Hamas’ military and governing capabilities.”

“Israel will continue to insist these conditions are met before a permanent ceasefire is put in place,” Netanyahu continued. 

On Monday, Netanyahu said that Biden had disclosed only part of the proposal aimed at achieving a ceasefire in Gaza and securing the release of Israeli hostages, and added that he had not agreed to end Israel’s military operations against Hamas.

“The proposal contains more details that Biden did not mention,” Netanyahu reportedly told Israeli lawmakers.

“Biden omitted one crucial detail regarding the second stage” of the deal, Netanyahu said.

“Israel didn’t agree to end the war, but only to ‘discuss’ its end,” he explained, adding that such a discussion would occur after the hostages were returned and “only on our terms.”

“Despite what President Biden said, the number of hostages that will be released in the first phase has not yet been agreed upon. There are many details in the deal, and the war will not end without us achieving all of our objectives. We will not give up on absolute victory,” he said.

Senior Netanyahu adviser Ophir Falk on Sunday gave a lukewarm endorsement to the ceasefire proposal. He conceded that it’s “not a good deal,” but underlined the importance of securing the return of the remaining hostages currently being held captive in Gaza. 

There is widespread dissatisfaction among senior Israeli officials who feel Biden’s remarks lacked specifics on how the stated goal of dismantling Hamas would be accomplished, fueling criticism that the US president misrepresented the full scope of Israel’s uncompromising stance in fully defeating the Palestinian terror group.

“People have unfortunately been led to believe that a permanent ceasefire kicks in without Israel’s conditions being met,” Falk told The Algemeiner on Monday. “The notion that there will be a permanent ceasefire before Hamas’ military and governing capabilities are destroyed and all our hostages are home is a non-starter.”

Despite repeated rejections of the ceasefire deal by Hamas and hesitance by Israel, the Biden administration has argued that an agreement between Israel and the terrorist group is still attainable. 

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan stated during a Wednesday interview that the ceasefire deal is still “on the table.”

State department spokesperson Matthew Miller confirmed on Thursday that the US has not received “an official response from Hamas” regarding the ceasefire deal and said the administration is still pushing for the agreement.

The White House released a joint statement on Thursday with the governments of Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Spain, Thailand, and the United Kingdom, calling on Hamas to accept the ceasefire proposal. 

We call on Hamas to close this agreement, that Israel is ready to move forward with, and begin the process of releasing our citizens,” the statement read.

The US has recently praised Israel for its willingness to make compromises in ceasefire negotiations, while describing Hamas as an “obstacle” to a truce.

Neither the White House nor the US State Department responded to requests for comment on how the Biden administration hopes practically to achieve its ceasefire proposal given the recent statements from Israel and Hamas.

The post Biden Admin Continues Pushing Gaza Ceasefire Proposal Despite Hamas Rejection, Israeli Reservations first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan leaves after attending a military parade to mark the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus in response to a short-lived Greek-inspired coup, in the Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus, in the divided city of Nicosia, Cyprus July 20, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

Greek Cypriots mourned and Turkish Cypriots rejoiced on Saturday, the 50th anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of part of the island after a brief Greek inspired coup, with the chances of reconciliation as elusive as ever.

The ethnically split island is a persistent source of tension between Greece and Turkey, which are both partners in NATO but are at odds over numerous issues.

Their differences were laid bare on Saturday, with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attending a celebratory military parade in north Nicosia to mark the day in 1974 when Turkish forces launched an offensive that they call a “peace operation.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was due later on Saturday to attend an event in the south of the Nicosia to commemorate what Greeks commonly refer to as the “barbaric Turkish invasion.” Air raid sirens sounded across the area at dawn.

Mitsotakis posted an image of a blood-stained map of Cyprus on his LinkedIn page with the words “Half a century since the national tragedy of Cyprus.”

There was jubilation in the north.

“The Cyprus Peace Operation saved Turkish Cypriots from cruelty and brought them to freedom,” Erdogan told crowds who gathered to watch the parade despite stifling midday heat, criticizing the south for having a “spoiled mentality” and seeing itself as the sole ruler of Cyprus.

Peace talks are stalled at two seemingly irreconcilable concepts – Greek Cypriots want reunification as a federation. Turkish Cypriots want a two-state settlement.

Erdogan left open a window to dialogue although he said a federal solution, advocated by Greek Cypriots and backed by most in the international community, was “not possible.”

“We are ready for negotiations, to meet, and to establish long-term peace and resolution in Cyprus,” he said.

Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960, but a shared administration between Greek and Turkish Cypriots quickly fell apart in violence that saw Turkish Cypriots withdraw into enclaves and led to the dispatch of a U.N. peacekeeping force.

The crisis left Greek Cypriots running the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union since 2004 with the potential to derail Turkey’s own decades-long aspirations of joining the bloc.

It also complicates any attempts to unlock energy potential in the eastern Mediterranean because of overlapping claims. The region has seen major discoveries of hydrocarbons in recent years.

REMEMBERING THE DEAD

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, whose office represents the Greek Cypriot community in the reunification dialogue, said the anniversary was a somber occasion for reflection and for remembering the dead.

“Our mission is liberation, reunification and solving the Cyprus problem,” he said. “If we really want to send a message on this tragic anniversary … it is to do anything possible to reunite Cyprus.”

Turkey, he said, continued to be responsible for violating human rights and international law over Cyprus.

Across the south, church services were held to remember the more than 3,000 people who died in the Turkish invasion.

“It was a betrayal of Cyprus and so many kids were lost. It wasn’t just my son, it was many,” said Loukas Alexandrou, 90, as he tended the grave of his son at a military cemetery.

In Turkey, state television focused on violence against Turkish Cypriots prior to the invasion, particularly on bloodshed in 1963-64 and in 1967.

Turkey’s invasion took more than a third of the island and expelled more than 160,000 Greek Cypriots to the south.

Reunification talks collapsed in 2017 and have been at a stalemate since. Northern Cyprus is a breakaway state recognized only by Turkey, and its Turkish Cypriot leadership wants international recognition.

The post One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Putin Jails US Reporter Gershkovich in Sham Trial

A Russian secret court found U.S. reporter Evan Gershkovich guilty of espionage on Friday and sentenced him to 16 years in a maximum security penal colony in what his employer, the Wall Street Journal, accurately called “a disgraceful sham conviction.”

Gershkovich, a 32-year-old Jewish American who denied any wrongdoing, went on trial in the city of Yekaterinburg last month after being accused of trying to gather sensitive information about a tank factory.

He was the first U.S. journalist accused of spying in Russia since the Cold War, and his arrest in March 2023 prompted many U.S. and other Western correspondents to leave Moscow.

U.S. President Joe Biden said Gershkovich did not commit any crime and has been wrongfully detained.

“We are pushing hard for Evan’s release and will continue to do so,” Biden said in a statement. “Journalism is not a crime.”

Video of Friday’s hearing released by the court showed Gershkovich, dressed in a T-shirt and black trousers, standing in a glass courtroom cage as he listened to the verdict being read in rapid-fire legalese for nearly four minutes.

Asked by the judge if he had any questions, he replied “Nyet.”

The judge, Andrei Mineyev, said the nearly 16 months Gershkovich had already served since his arrest would count towards the 16-year sentence.

Mineyev ordered the destruction of the reporter’s mobile phone and paper notebook. The defense has 15 days to appeal.

“This disgraceful, sham conviction comes after Evan has spent 478 days in prison, wrongfully detained, away from his family and friends, prevented from reporting, all for doing his job as a journalist,” the Journal said in a statement.

“We will continue to do everything possible to press for Evan’s release and to support his family. Journalism is not a crime, and we will not rest until he’s released. This must end now.”

Gershkovich’s friend, reporter Pjotr Sauer of Britain’s Guardian newspaper, posted on X: “Russia has just sentenced an innocent man to 16 years in a high security prison. I have no words to describe this farce. Let’s get Evan out of there.”

Friday’s hearing was only the third in the trial. The proceedings, apart from the sentencing, were closed to the media on the grounds of state secrecy.

Espionage cases often take months to handle and the unusual speed at which the trial was held behind closed doors has stoked speculation that a long-discussed U.S.-Russia prisoner exchange deal may be in the offing, involving Gershkovich and potentially other Americans detained in Russia.

The Kremlin, when asked by Reuters earlier on Friday about the possibility of such an exchange, declined to comment: “I’ll leave your question unanswered,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Among those Russia would like to free is Vadim Krasikov, a Russian serving a life sentence in Germany for murdering an exiled Chechen-Georgian dissident in a Berlin park in 2019.

Officers of the FSB security service arrested Gershkovich on March 29, 2023, at a steakhouse in Yekaterinburg, 900 miles (1,400 km) east of Moscow. He has since been held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison.

Russian prosecutors had accused Gershkovich of gathering secret information on the orders of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency about a company that manufactures tanks for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

The Uralvagonzavod factory, which he is accused of spying on, has been sanctioned by the West. Based in the city of Nizhny Tagil near Yekaterinburg, it has publicly spoken of producing T-90M battle tanks and modernizing T-72B3M tanks.

Earlier on Friday, the court unexpectedly said it would pronounce its verdict within hours after state prosecutors demanded Gershkovich be jailed for 18 years for spying. The maximum sentence for the crime he was accused of is 20 years.

Russia usually concludes legal proceedings against foreigners before making any deals on exchanging them.

‘WRONGFULLY DETAINED’

Gershkovich, his newspaper and the U.S. government all rejected the allegations against him and said he was merely doing his job as a reporter accredited by the Foreign Ministry to work in Russia.

President Vladimir Putin has said Russia is open to a prisoner exchange involving Gershkovich, and that contacts with the United States have taken place but must remain secret.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that Washington was working every day to bring home Gershkovich, former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan and other Americans.

He declined to go into details when asked why Putin would reach a deal on Gershkovich’s release ahead of the U.S. election.

“Any effort to bring any American home is going to be part of a process of back and forth, of discussion, potentially of negotiation,” Blinken said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

“Depending on what the other side is looking for, they’ll reach their own conclusions about whether it meets whatever their needs are, and we can bring someone home – and I don’t think that’s dependent on an election in the United States or anywhere else,” he said.

Mark Warner, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, called Gershkovich’s sentence “outrageous,” and said he thinks “it’s clear that the Russians view Evan almost as a bargaining chip at this point.”

Speaking in an interview with Reuters, Warner declined to discuss whether efforts are underway to arrange an exchange for Gershkovich’s release, but said “all options have to stay on the table” with regards to how the Biden administration responds.

Friends who have exchanged letters with Gershkovich say he has remained resilient and cheerful throughout his imprisonment, occupying himself by reading classics of Russian literature.

At court appearances over the past 16 months – most recently with his head shaven – he has frequently smiled and nodded at reporters he used to work with before he himself became the story.

Since Russian troops entered Ukraine in 2022, Moscow and Washington have conducted just one high profile prisoner swap: Russia released basketball star Brittney Griner, held for smuggling cannabis, in return for arms dealer Viktor Bout, jailed for terrorism-related offenses in the United States.

The post Putin Jails US Reporter Gershkovich in Sham Trial first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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VP Harris Hits Fundraising Trail Amid Ongoing Calls for Biden to Quit Race

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will headline a fundraiser in Massachusetts on Saturday as President Joe Biden faces continued pressure from fellow Democrats and big money donors to end his floundering campaign.

Biden and top aides on Friday vowed to continue with the campaign, even as major donors signaled they were unwilling to open their checkbooks unless the 81-year-old president stepped aside.

The crisis-in-confidence in Biden’s ability to win has placed a huge spotlight on Harris, widely believed to be the most likely replacement if he steps down.

Her fundraising events, including the one on Saturday in Provincetown, Massachusetts are getting added interest from donors who want to signal they are willing to coalesce around her potential bid for the White House, according to three Democratic fundraisers.

More than one in 10 congressional Democrats have now publicly called on Biden, who is isolating at his Delaware home with a case of COVID-19, to drop out following a disastrous debate last month against Republican former President Donald Trump that raised questions about the incumbent’s ability to win the Nov. 5 election or carry out his duties for another four years.

Biden’s campaign hoped to raise some $50 million in big-dollar donations in July for the Biden Victory Fund but was on track for less than half that figure as of Friday, according to two sources familiar with the fundraising efforts.

The campaign called reports of a July fundraising slump overstated, noting that it anticipated a drop-off in large donations due to vacations. It said the campaign still has 10 fundraisers on the schedule this month.

Harris assured major Democratic donors on Friday that the party would prevail in the presidential election as more lawmakers called for her running mate, Biden, to stand down.

“We are going to win this election,” she said on a call arranged on short notice to calm donors, according to a person on the call. “We know which candidate in this election puts the American people first: Our president, Joe Biden.”

Harris attended the call “at the direct request of senior advisers to the president,” one of the people said, an account confirmed by another person familiar with the matter.

The post VP Harris Hits Fundraising Trail Amid Ongoing Calls for Biden to Quit Race first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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