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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, and Israeli President Isaac Herzog talk during their meeting in Tel Aviv Alamy Stock Photo
Middle East

Blinken urges Hamas to accept deal for Gaza truce as he meets Israel leaders

This comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to send troops into its far southern city of Rafah.

TOP US DIPLOMAT Antony Blinken has urged Hamas to accept a truce in the Gaza Strip, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to send troops into its far southern city of Rafah.

Washington has heightened pressure on all sides to reach a ceasefire – a message pushed by Blinken, who was on his seventh regional tour since the Gaza conflict broke out in October.

An Israeli official told AFP the government “will wait for answers” until tomorrow night, and then “make a decision” whether to send a delegation to indirect talks being brokered by US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators in Cairo.

The Palestinian militant group said it was considering a plan for a 40-day ceasefire and the exchange of scores of hostages for larger numbers of Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas, whose envoys returned from Cairo talks to their base in Qatar, would “discuss the ideas and the proposal”, said a Hamas source, adding: “We are keen to respond as quickly as possible.”

‘We will enter Rafah’

Hours before Blinken landed in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu vowed to send Israeli ground troops into Rafah despite repeated US warnings of the potential for heavy casualties among the 1.5 million civilians sheltering in the city.

“We will enter Rafah and we will eliminate the Hamas battalions there with or without a deal,” the right-wing premier told hostage families, his office said.

UN chief Antonio Guterres said an Israeli assault on Rafah would “be an unbearable escalation, killing thousands more civilians and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee”.

During his official visit to the Middle East last week, Tánaiste Micheál Martin took a tour of the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza.

Speaking to reporters in Jordan, Martin said he is also “worried about the prospects of an Israeli invasion of Rafah”.

He said that such a move would be “catastrophic”. 

The Tánaiste also said that he is “very pessimistic about the prospect of a ceasefire” in Gaza. 

u-s-secretary-of-state-antony-blinken-speaks-to-families-and-supporters-of-israeli-hostages-held-by-hamas-in-gaza-during-a-protest-calling-for-their-return-after-meeting-families-of-hostages-in-tel Blinken speaks to families and supporters of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza during a protest calling for their return Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Ahead of what promised to be a difficult meeting with Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Blinken met privately with hostage relatives in Tel Aviv.

In rare scenes for the top US diplomat, who has faced furore at home and abroad over the administration’s support for Israel in its campaign against Hamas, Blinken was greeted outside his Tel Aviv hotel by Israeli demonstrators waving US flags.

Blinken told them that freeing the hostages was “at the heart of everything we’re trying to do”.

The estimates that 129 Israelis remain captive in Gaza, 34 of whom are presumed dead.

Many of their families have expressed hope that US pressure may force Netanyahu to agree a deal for their release.

More routes for aid

On the previous leg of his regional tour in Jordan, Blinken said a Gaza truce and the redoubling of aid deliveries went hand in hand.

A truce is “the most effective way to relieve the suffering” of civilians in Gaza, he told reporters near Amman.

Blinken saw off a first Jordanian truck convoy of aid heading to Gaza through the Erez crossing reopened by Israel.

“It is real and important progress, but more still needs to be done,” he said.

UN agencies have warned that without urgent intervention, famine looms in Gaza, particularly in northern areas which are hardest to reach.

A US-built floating pier on Gaza’s coast is expected to be completed later this week, said Cyprus, the departure point for the planned “maritime corridor”.

Blinken said the pier would “significantly increase the assistance” but was not “a substitute” for greater overland access.

The conflict started after Hamas’s 7 October attack on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 34,568 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the territory.

Includes reporting by © AFP 2024

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