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Blinken holds high-stakes meetings in Israel as he ramps up pressure on Hamas to accept ceasefire deal

Evelyn Hockstein/Pool/AP

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is greeted by Israeli Ambassador to Washington Michael Herzog as he arrives at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, April 30, 2024.


US Secretary of State Antony Blinken began a new round of high-stakes talks in Israel on Wednesday, as the United States seeks to increase pressure on Hamas to agree to a ceasefire and agreement for the release of the hostages, while also seeking to prevent an Israeli military offensive in Rafah and to further respond to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

America’s top diplomat arrived in Tel Aviv on Tuesday after stops in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, capping his seventh diplomatic tour of the region since the October 7 Hamas attack. He had a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and is expected to meet other officials later in the day.

“We are determined to get a ceasefire that brings the hostages home, and to get it now,” Blinken said during a meeting with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, adding that “the only reason “This could not be achieved because of Hamas.”

“We must also focus on the people of Gaza who are suffering,” he added, saying that emphasis must also be placed on “providing them with the assistance they need, food, water, medicines, shelter.”

Protesters gathered outside the venue where Blinken and Herzog met in Tel Aviv, a livestream showed. The crowd held posters urging US President Joe Biden to “stop the war + save the hostages”. Protesters chanted “take them home,” referring to Israeli hostages held in Gaza and calling on the government to strike a deal to secure their release.

After his meeting with Herzog, Blinken shook hands with protesters and told them that those responsible “would not rest until everyone” returned. “Bringing your loved ones home is at the heart of what we’re trying to do,” he said.

U.S. officials expressed some optimism that a deal could be reached to secure a ceasefire and the release of hostages held by Hamas after Israel presented what Blinken described Monday as an “extraordinarily generous” proposal.

Blinken reiterated Tuesday that he believes a deal is “achievable because the Israelis have put a strong proposal on the table,” and that the United States wants to see such a deal come to fruition “in the coming days.”

Israel “demonstrated that it was willing to compromise, and now Hamas is taking the blame,” he said. “No more delays. No more excuses. It’s time to act.”

Blinken said the proposed deal “is the best, most effective way to really deal with people’s suffering and also create an environment where we can hopefully move toward something that’s truly sustainable.” .

However, reaching an agreement is not inevitable.

Negotiators from Egypt, Qatar, the United States and Hamas met in Cairo as the latter considers a new framework proposed by Egypt that calls on the group to release up to 33 hostages kidnapped in Israel in exchange for a pause in hostilities in Gaza, one Israeli said. a source close to the negotiations and a foreign diplomatic source told CNN.

Israel helped develop the proposal but did not fully accept it, sources said. Israel is awaiting a response from Hamas before deciding whether or not to send its own delegation to Cairo.

Hamas warned Wednesday that Israel would not achieve through negotiations and “pressure” what it could not achieve during nearly seven months of war.

“Netanyahu and all his supporters shamefully imagine that they could achieve through pressure and political machinations what they could not achieve through the fire of war,” wrote politburo member Izzat Al-Rishq of Hamas, on Telegram.

Al-Rishq did not reject the proposal but suggested that Hamas was not yet ready to accept it. He said Israel “poured tons of lava and explosives into Gaza and did not break the resistance. God forbid that they should be able to obtain by negotiation what they could not obtain by war. »

Even as the United States seeks a deal it says will improve the long-term situation in Gaza, Blinken will push Israeli officials to do more immediately to address the humanitarian disaster in the coastal enclave.

Blinken’s visit is the latest since the deadly Israeli strike on a World Central Kitchen aid convoy in Gaza in early April. The strike, for which the Israel Defense Forces claimed responsibility, sparked immense fury and the Biden administration’s sharpest calls yet for Israel to protect civilians and take more action to address the humanitarian situation in this war-torn strip.

“If we don’t see the changes we need, there will be changes in our own policies,” Blinken warned at a news conference last month.

Although Israel has pledged to make changes – opening new crossings, allowing more trucks into Gaza and creating a deconfrontation mechanism – it has been slow to implement them. The Biden administration has also faced criticism from aid officials who say they are concerned with counting trucks rather than managing the crisis as a whole.

Blinken said Tuesday that a first tranche of aid from Jordan was finally being sent to Gaza via the Erez crossing between Israel and northern Gaza, but that “there is still much to be done, and in particular, we We need to ensure that our focus is not only on inputs but also on impact.

Top US diplomat says it is ‘critically important that there be a clear and affirmative list of products needed for the well-being of the people of Gaza… and that we not have arbitrary denial of products that must be purchased. in Gaza. »

Blinken is also expected to echo the Biden administration’s repeated warnings against a full-scale military offensive in Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians have fled.

“We have not yet seen a plan that gives us confidence that civilians can be effectively protected,” Blinken said Monday. Last month he cast doubt on the very idea that such a plan could be developed.

“Inevitably, there will remain a fairly large civilian population in Rafah, and we believe that a major military operation with a large civilian population presence would have terrible consequences for that population,” he said on April 20.

Netanyahu again threatened Tuesday to carry out an offensive “with or without a deal.” Despite the threat, U.S. officials have said they do not believe an offensive is imminent.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Israeli Ambassador Michael Herzog in a photo caption provided by the pool.

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