Blinken in Middle East to push Gaza ceasefire plan

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged top Israeli officials on Monday to accept and implement a plan for postwar Gaza as he pushed for more international pressure on Hamas to agree to a cease-fire proposal newly endorsed by the U.N. Security Council.

On his latest urgent mission to the Middle East — his eighth since the Israel-Hamas war began in October — Blinken met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant after talks in Cairo with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to push the proposal, which faces new uncertainty following Israel's hostage rescue operation that killed many Palestinians and turmoil in Netanyahu's government.

Blinken told Netanyahu that "the United States and other world leaders will stand behind the comprehensive proposal outlined by President Biden that would lead to an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the release of all hostages, and a significant and sustained increase in humanitarian assistance for distribution throughout Gaza," the State Department said.

After the U.N. Security Council passed a U.S.-sponsored resolution endorsing the cease-fire proposal, Hamas said it welcomed the move and was ready to work with mediators in indirect negotiations with Israel to implement it. The statement was among the strongest from Hamas to date but stressed the group would continue "our struggle" to end the Israeli occupation and work on setting up a "fully sovereign" Palestinian state.

However, the militant group still has not formally responded to the proposal it received 10 days ago. Blinken again urged Hamas to accept it, saying it has wide international support and Israel has accepted it, though Netanyahu has expressed skepticism.

"I know that there are those who are pessimistic about the prospects," Blinken told reporters before leaving Cairo for Israel on the trip that also will take him to Jordan and Qatar. "That's understandable. Hamas continues to show extraordinary cynicism in its actions, a disinterest not only in the well-being and security of Israelis but also Palestinians."

While Biden, Blinken and other U.S. officials have praised the rescue of four Israeli hostages on Saturday, the operation resulted in the deaths of 274 Palestinian civilians and may complicate the cease-fire push by emboldening Israel and hardening Hamas' resolve to carry on fighting in the war that started with its Oct. 7 attack in Israel.

In his talks with al-Sisi, Blinken also discussed plans for post-conflict governance and reconstruction in Gaza.

Netanyahu and his government have resisted calls for any "day after" plan that would bar Israel from having some form of security presence in the territory. Blinken said he would urge Israel to come up with alternatives that would be acceptable.

"It would be very good if Israel put forward its own ideas on this, and I'll be talking to the government about that," Blinken said. "But one way or another, we've got to have these plans, we've got to have them in place, we've got to be ready to go if we want to take advantage of a cease-fire."

The three-phase plan calls for the release of more hostages and a temporary pause in hostilities that will last as long as it takes to negotiate the second phase, which aims to bring the release of all hostages, a "full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza" and "a permanent end to hostilities," according to the American-drafted resolution put before the U.N. Security Council. The third phase calls for reconstruction in Gaza.

Although the deal has been described as an Israeli initiative and thousands of Israelis have demonstrated to support it, Netanyahu has been skeptical, saying what has been presented publicly is not accurate and that Israel is still committed to destroying Hamas.

Netanyahu's far-right allies have threatened to collapse his government if he implements the plan. Benny Gantz, a popular centrist, resigned on Sunday from the three-member War Cabinet after saying he would do so if the prime minister did not formulate a new plan for postwar Gaza.

Blinken has met with Netanyahu, Gallant, Gantz and Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid on nearly all his previous trips to Israel. Officials said Blinken is expected to meet on Tuesday with Gantz, whom Netanyahu had urged not to step down in the aftermath of the hostage rescue.

Despite Blinken's roughly once-a-month visits to the region since the war began, the conflict has ground on with more than 37,120 Palestinians killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Hamas and other militants allegedly killed some 1,200 people in the Oct. 7 attack, according to Israel, and took around 250 people hostage.

The war has severely hindered the flow of food, medicine and other supplies to the Palestinians in Gaza, who are facing widespread hunger. U.N. agencies say more than 1 million people in the territory could experience the highest level of starvation by mid-July.

In Jordan, Blinken will take part in an emergency international conference on improving the flow of aid to Gaza.

Source: Associated Press

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