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Israel-Hamas war: Blinken returns to Mideast as cease-fire plan hangs in balance

TEL AVIV (AP) — US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken returned to the Middle East on Monday as a proposal Ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas is at stake after the rescue of four Israeli hostages held in Gaza during a military raid and following the latest unrest within the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Without a firm public response from Hamas or Israel to the proposal received 10 days ago, Blinken began his eighth visit to the region since the conflict started in October by meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, a key mediator with the militant group Hamas, and then speaking with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Blinken once again called on Hamas to accept the plan, which he said has broad international support.

“If you want a ceasefire, put pressure on Hamas to say ‘yes,’” he told reporters before leaving Cairo for a trip that will take him to Israel, Jordan and in Qatar. Blinken said Israel had accepted the proposal, although Netanyahu did not say so directly.

“I know there are those who are pessimistic about the prospects,” Blinken said, placing the blame squarely on Hamas. “This is understandable. Hamas continues to demonstrate extraordinary cynicism in its actions, a disinterest not only in the well-being and security of Israelis but also of Palestinians.

Blinken said the plan presented is the “best way” to achieve a ceasefire, free remaining hostages and improve regional security.

Palestinians watch the aftermath of the Israeli bombardment in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, Saturday, June 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

While President Joe Biden, Blinken and other US officials praised the hostage rescue, the operation resulted in the deaths of large numbers of Palestinian civilians and could complicate the ceasefire campaign emboldening Israel and strengthening Hamas’ resolve to continue the war it started with its October 7 attack on Israel.

“It’s difficult to say how Hamas will handle this particular operation and what they will do to determine whether they will say yes or no,” Biden national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday. “We hope that with enough chorus, the international community speaking with one voice, Hamas will come to the right answer,” Sullivan told ABC’s “This Week.”

During his talks with El-Sissi, Blinken also discussed plans for governance and post-conflict reconstruction in Gaza, following massive destruction.

“It’s imperative that there be a plan, and it has to involve security, it has to involve governance, it has to involve rebuilding,” Blinken said.

People protest against the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and call for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the militant group Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, June 8, 2024. Israel said Saturday it had rescued four hostages who were kidnapped during the Hamas attack on October 7, the largest reconstruction operation of its kind since the start of the Gaza war.  (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Demonstrators protest against the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and call for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the militant group Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, June 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg )

Andrey Kozlov, 27, kidnapped in Israel during an attack by Hamas on October 7, 2023, arrives by helicopter at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel, Saturday, June 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Tomer Appelbaum) (AP Photo/Tomer Appelbaum)

Andrey Kozlov, 27, kidnapped in Israel during an attack by Hamas on October 7, 2023, arrives by helicopter at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel, Saturday, June 8, 2024. Israel claims to have rescued four hostages in Gaza who were kidnapped during an attack by Hamas on October 7. (AP Photo/Tomer Appelbaum)(AP Photo/Tomer Appelbaum)

Netanyahu and his government have resisted calls for a “morning after” plan that would prevent Israel from having some form of security presence in the territory. Blinken said he would urge Israel to offer acceptable alternatives.

“It would be very good if Israel presented its own ideas on this, and I will talk to the government about it,” he said. “But somehow we have to have these plans, we have to put them in place, we have to be ready to go if we want to enjoy a ceasefire.”

The three-phase ceasefire 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 about the release of all hostages, a “complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza” and “a permanent end to hostilities”, according to an American draft resolution presented to the UN Security Council. The third phase calls for reconstruction in Gaza.

The Security Council is scheduled to vote Monday afternoon on the resolution, which welcomes the proposal and urges Hamas to accept it.

But Hamas may not be the only obstacle.

Although the agreement was described as an Israeli initiative and thousands of Israelis showed their support, Netanyahu expressed skepticismstating that what has been presented publicly is not accurate and that Israel is still determined to destroy Hamas.

Netanyahu’s far-right allies have threatened to bring down his government if he implements the plan. Benny Gantza popular centrist, resigned from the three-member War Cabinet on Sunday after having declared that he would do so if the Prime Minister did not formulate new plan for post-war Gaza. The day after the hostage rescue, Netanyahu urged him not to resign.

Blinken has met with Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Gantz and Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid on almost all of his previous trips to Israel. Officials said Blinken is expected to meet with Gantz on Tuesday.

Despite Blinken’s visits to the region about once a month since the war began, the conflict has continued with more than 37,120 Palestinians killed, according to Gaza’s health ministry, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its counts. Hamas and other militants killed some 1,200 people in the October 7 attack, most of them civilians, and took about 250 people hostage.

The war seriously hampered the circulation of food, medicine and other supplies to the Palestinians of Gaza, who face widespread hunger. UN agencies say more than a million people in the territory could suffer the same fate. highest level of starvation in mid-July.

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

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Follow AP’s coverage of the Gaza war at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

News Source : apnews.com
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