Blinken says agreement ‘possible’ on Gaza truce deal

Blinken said Washington was reviewing Hamas’ response and that he would discuss it with Israeli officials…reports Asian Lite News

Hamas said on Tuesday it had delivered its response to a proposed ceasefire deal for Gaza, and the United States said it believed an agreement was possible.

Details of Hamas’ response were not immediately revealed but Qatar, which helped mediate the proposal that was passed on to Hamas last week and would also involve the release of hostages held in Gaza, said the reply had made Doha “optimistic.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on a lightning tour of the Middle East, said Washington was reviewing Hamas’ response and that he would discuss it with Israeli officials when he visits the country on Wednesday.

“There’s still a lot of work to do be done, but we continue to believe that an agreement is possible, and indeed essential,” he told a press conference in Doha with Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.

After Hamas issued a statement saying it had submitted its response to the ceasefire proposal, Sheikh Mohammed said it had been a “positive response” but declined to give further details.

The proposed deal, drawn up more than a week ago by US and Israeli spy chiefs at a meeting with the Egyptians and Qataris, would secure the release of remaining hostages held by militants in Gaza in return for a long pause to fighting.

Hamas has said previously that any deal must bring about a definitive end to the war. Israel has said it will not halt the war permanently until Hamas is destroyed.

Sources close to the talks have said the truce would last at least 40 days, during which militants would free civilians among remaining hostages they hold. Further phases would follow, to hand over soldiers and dead bodies of hostages, in exchange for releases of Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.

The only truce so far, in November, was initially agreed for just four days and extended to last a week. At the time, Hamas released 110 hostages in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Israel began its military offensive in Gaza after militants from Hamas-ruled Gaza killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostages in southern Israel on Oct. 7.

Gaza’s Health Ministry says at least 27,585 Palestinians have been confirmed killed in Israel’s military campaign, with thousands more feared buried under rubble.

Blinken in Israel

Meanwhile, Blinken is set to begin meetings with key government officials in Israel on Wednesday, to press for a “humanitarian pause” as international and domestic US pressure to end the conflict in Gaza continues to mount, as reported by CNN.

The meeting is followed by the recent update that the Hamas terror group has put forward a response to a proposal meant to secure the freedom of the remaining hostages held by the terrorist group and a sustained cessation of the fighting in Gaza.

Blinken highlighted that he will hold discussions regarding the counterproposal with Israeli officials, according to CNN.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we continue to believe that an agreement is possible and, indeed, essential. And we will continue to work relentlessly to achieve it,” Blinken said at a press conference in Doha on Tuesday.

The Israel ground offensive, which was launched after the Hamas attack, has taken an immense humanitarian toll on the strip, with tens of thousands dead and the population of Gaza on the brink of famine.

The offensive further sparked a barrage of regional attacks by Iranian-backed proxy groups, including by Houthi against vessels in the Red Sea as well as a deluge of strikes by militias against US troops in Iraq and Syria, one of which took the lives of three US service members.

However, the Biden administration is currently facing outrage from some groups at home over its handling of the situation in Gaza which could cause political damage to US President Joe Biden in an election year, as reported by CNN.

Moreover, US State Secretary Blinken is expected to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and key officials in the Israeli war cabinet.

In those meetings, Blinken is expected to focus on pushing Israel toward a “humanitarian pause,” as the Biden administration calls it, as such a suspension of the fighting is central to the objectives the US is pushing for both the short and longer-term.

“We saw the results of the last pause – the initial pause: 105 hostages out, a significant increase in humanitarian assistance getting in, the repair of critical infrastructure in Gaza, and more broadly, reduced regional tensions at the same time,” Blinken said.

Meanwhile, a senior State Department official also stated that “whenever we go to Israel we have a long list in our ongoing conversation with Israel on humanitarian access and civilian casualties.”

However, Blinken stressed that the conversations are not expected to be easy.

Netanyahu on Monday again rejected the idea of a ceasefire, saying that the offensive would continue until Hamas’ leadership was killed, according to CNN.

ALSO READ: Blinken heads to Egypt to seek end to Gaza war

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