Blinken to Hamas: Seal ceasefire deal with Israel

MEETING.  United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Israeli President Isaac Herzog shake hands during their meeting in Tel Aviv, Israel Wednesday, May 1, 2024. /
MEETING. United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Israeli President Isaac Herzog shake hands during their meeting in Tel Aviv, Israel Wednesday, May 1, 2024. /AP

JERUSALEM — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken hiked up pressure on Hamas on Wednesday to accept the latest proposal for a ceasefire with Israel, saying the “time is now” for an agreement that would free hostages and pause the nearly seven months of war in Gaza.

But a key sticking point appeared to remain — whether the deal would completely end Israel’s offensive as Hamas has demanded.

Blinken met with Israeli leaders throughout the day on the last stop of his seventh visit to the region since the war erupted in October, trying to push through what has been an elusive deal between Israel and Hamas. The U.S. and fellow mediators Egypt and Qatar hope to avert an Israeli offensive into the southern Gaza town of Rafah, where some 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering.

Throughout months of talks, Hamas has said the freeing of all the hostages it holds must bring a permanent halt to the war and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza.

Complete withdrawal

The proposed deal now at the center of talks raises that possibility, according to leaked details that were confirmed by an Egyptian official and a Hamas official. But Hamas is seeking to strengthen the language to ensure a complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from the entire Gaza Strip, the Egyptian official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the internal negotiations. The group said it is likely to give its response to the proposal on Thursday.

In public, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has staunchly rejected stopping the war before Hamas is destroyed. In a sign of the challenges in the negotiations, Netanyahu in his talks with Blinken on Wednesday repeated his vow to launch the offensive on Rafah, which he says is Hamas’ last stronghold in Gaza.

Blinken said Israel has made “very important” compromises in ceasefire efforts and it is now up to Hamas to get the deal done. / AP

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