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Blinken urges Middle East leaders to press Hamas for Gaza ceasefire

June 10, 2024 at 4:16 pm

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (3rd L) meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (C) in Cairo, Egypt on June 10, 2024. [Egyptian Presidency / Handout – Anadolu Agency]

US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said on Monday, as he began a trip to the Middle East, that he was urging leaders in the region to press Hamas to say yes to a ceasefire proposal to halt fighting in Gaza, Reuters reports.

Blinken said Hamas was the only outlier in not accepting the proposal for a three-phase deal involving the release of hostages and talks toward an end to fighting, to which he said Israel had agreed.

“My message to governments throughout the region, to people throughout the region, is if you want a ceasefire, press Hamas to say yes,” Blinken told reporters before departing Egypt to visit Israel.

A senior Hamas official told Reuters that Blinken’s Gaza ceasefire comments were “biased to Israel”.

Blinken met with Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, in Cairo before travelling on to Israel, where he will meet with Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant.

Blinken is on his eighth visit to the region since Hamas attacked Israel on 7 October, triggering the bloodiest episode in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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The top US diplomat said he would also discuss plans for governance and reconstruction in post-conflict Gaza during his trip, on which he will also meet regional leaders in Jordan and Qatar.

The Hamas attack killed 1,200 people and took some 250 others hostage, according to Israeli tallies. In response, Israel launched an assault on the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, the Health Ministry in the Territory said in its Sunday update, and reduced the enclave to a wasteland.

However, since then, it has been revealed by Haaretz that helicopters and tanks of the Israeli army had, in fact, killed many of the 1,139 soldiers and civilians claimed by Israel to have been killed by the Palestinian Resistance.

The visit comes after US President, Joe Biden, on 31 May outlined a three-phase ceasefire proposal from Israel that envisions a permanent end to hostilities, the release of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners and the reconstruction of Gaza.

Blinken said Egyptian officials had been in communication with Hamas as recently as a few hours ago.

There was a sense of urgency on getting an answer from Hamas on the deal, he said, but declined to further detail his talks.

Ceasefire talks have intensified since Biden’s speech and CIA Director, William Burns, met senior officials from mediators Qatar and Egypt on Wednesday in Doha to discuss the plan.

Biden has repeatedly declared that ceasefires were close over the past several months, but there has been only one, week-long truce, in November.

Israeli forces rescued four hostages held by Hamas since October in a raid in Gaza on Saturday, during which 274 Palestinians were killed, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.

Blinken did not respond to the question of whether the raid had worsened hopes for a deal.

“Ultimately, I can’t put myself – none of us can put ourselves – in the minds of Hamas or its leaders,” Blinken said. “So we don’t know what the answer will be.”

Blinken’s trip comes after Israeli Minister, Benny Gantz, announced his resignation from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s emergency government on Sunday, withdrawing the only centrist power in the embattled leader’s otherwise far-right coalition during the war in Gaza.

Blinken is expected to meet with Gantz on Tuesday, a senior State Department official said. They have met during previous visits by Blinken to Israel.

The departure of Gantz’s centrist party will not pose an immediate threat to the government. But it could have a serious impact, nonetheless, leaving Netanyahu reliant on hardliners, with no end in sight to the war and a possible escalation in fighting with Lebanese Hezbollah.

OPINION: Hamas is under pressure from those close to it and facing threats from its enemies