Blinken Meets With Netanyahu In Renewed Push For Gaza Cease-Fire

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By Nike Ching

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Wednesday as talks continue in Cairo to resolve details of an elusive bid for a cease-fire in Israel’s war with Hamas militants in Gaza.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Blinken “emphasized that it is Hamas that is standing in the way of a cease-fire.” The militants so far have refused to accept a plan calling for a several-week halt in nearly seven months of warfare, along with Hamas failing to free hostages it is holding in exchange for the release of Palestinians jailed by Israel.

But even as Blinken blamed Hamas for the lack of a truce, Miller said the top U.S. diplomat told Netanyahu that the U.S. remains opposed to the Israeli leader’s call for a ground attack on the southern Gaza town of Rafah, where Israel says it plans to root out four remaining battalions of Hamas fighters.

“We cannot, will not support a major military operation in Rafah, absent an effective plan to make sure that civilians are not harmed and no, we’ve not seen such a plan,” Blinken said at a news conference in Ashdod, Israel. “And at the same time, there are other ways, and in our judgment, better ways of dealing with the real ongoing challenge of Hamas that does not involve or require a major military operation in Rafah.” 

The U.S., the United Nations and numerous world officials have voiced opposition to an attack on Rafah because more than a million Palestinian refugees are sheltering there, many of them ordered by the Israeli military to flee there from their homes in northern Gaza during the earliest weeks of the war.

Netanyahu says the Rafah offensive is necessary to meet Israel’s goal of erasing Hamas control of Gaza, and that it will happen regardless of whether there is a cease-fire and hostage-release deal with Hamas.

Blinken said, “Hamas has to decide whether it will take the deal and actually advance the situation for the people that it purports to care about in Gaza. There is no time for delay. There’s no time for further haggling. The deal is there. They should take it.”

He said that if Hamas does not agree to the cease-fire, “I think that’s further proof that it doesn’t care a bit about the Palestinian people.”

Cairo has been hosting talks involving U.S., Egyptian and Qatari mediators that have produced the latest cease-fire proposal.

Blinken also placed a continued emphasis on getting more humanitarian aid into Gaza to feed famished Palestinians.

“At the same time, even as we’re working with relentless determination to get the cease-fire that brings the hostages home, we also have to be focused on people in Gaza who are suffering in this crossfire of Hamas’ making,” Blinken said. He said that on Wednesday, for the first time, trucks with humanitarian aid traveled through Erez, a new Israeli entry point into northern Gaza.

The top U.S. diplomat has repeatedly called on Hamas to accept the cease-fire proposal during a trip to the region that included earlier stops in Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Blinken also met with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who said the return of hostages held by Hamas “is and should be the top priority of the international community.”

Following the meeting with Herzog, Blinken spoke with demonstrators outside who held signs and chanted slogans calling for the hostages in Gaza to be brought home.

Blinken told the demonstrators he had met with families of the hostages and told them, “Bringing your loved ones home is at the heart of everything we’re trying to do.”

Hamas is believed to still be holding about 100 hostages, along with the remains of about 30 others, after taking about 250 people hostage in the October 7 attack on Israel in which the militants killed 1,200 people.

Israel’s counteroffensive in Gaza has killed more than 34,500 people, about two-thirds of them women and children, according to the health ministry in Gaza. Israel says the death toll includes several thousand Hamas militants it has killed.

Blinken met Tuesday with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and King Abdullah II, before meeting with Sigrid Kaag, U.N. senior humanitarian and reconstruction coordinator for Gaza.

Blinken thanked Abdullah for Jordan’s leadership in facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid, including joint U.S.-Jordan airdrops that to date have delivered more than 1,000 tons of humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in Gaza.

The two leaders discussed joint efforts to expedite the flow of additional urgently needed aid to Gaza from Jordan through land routes. Blinken also commended the king’s commitment to economic modernization and vital public sector reforms.

Later Tuesday, Blinken met with Palestinians from Gaza at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs before meeting with Kaag. Blinken told Kaag he was anxious to hear directly from her, adding, “The entire team is doing extraordinary work to ensure that people in Gaza get the help and support and the assistance they need.”

VOA’s Cindy Saine contributed to this report.

VOA

The VOA is the Voice of America

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