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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Blinken calls some Hamas changes to cease-fire proposal ‘unacceptable’

Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Washington on May 21, 2024. Blinken is scheduled to travel to Israel, Egypt, Qatar and Jordan next week. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

By Michael Crowley

Hamas’ response to a U.S.-backed cease-fire proposal for the Gaza Strip includes some changes that are “unacceptable,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said Wednesday, adding that the Biden administration would continue trying to broker a deal between Israel and Hamas, who appear to still be far apart on key demands.

“Hamas has proposed numerous changes to the proposal that was on the table,” Blinken said, a day after Hamas responded to a cease-fire plan endorsed by the U.N. Security Council that would pause the fighting and free hostages and prisoners. “Some of the changes are workable; some are not.”

Speaking at a news conference in Doha, Qatar, alongside Qatar’s prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Blinken said that “a deal was on the table that was virtually identical” to one that Hamas put forward May 6. But, he said, Hamas’ response, which was received by Egypt and Qatari mediators and passed to American officials Tuesday, makes demands that “go beyond positions that it had previously taken and accepted.”

“In the days ahead we are going to push on an urgent basis,” he said, “to try and close this deal.”

Blinken declined to disclose details about the Hamas counterproposal. But Hamas officials rejected his claim that they had made any changes to their previous stance in May and reiterated their accusation that Israel was blocking a deal. Osama Hamdan, Hamas’ representative in Lebanon, accused the top U.S. diplomat of seeing “things through an Israel lens.”

The cease-fire proposal would halt the fighting in Gaza immediately, and, after the release of some Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners, begin talks that could lead to a much longer or even permanent cease-fire and an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Qatar and Egypt have acted as intermediaries between Israel and Hamas, which do not communicate directly with each other.

Basem Naim, a Hamas spokesperson, said Wednesday that Hamas’ position remains that the deal must include guarantees of a permanent cease-fire and a complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, among other demands.

“This new offer includes no changes to our previous response to the offer submitted last May,” he said.

Israel has not publicly accepted the initial proposal. It has said that it will not agree to a deal that doesn’t allow it to eradicate Hamas or that would force what it considers a premature end to the war. It has maintained that the proposal on the table enables it to achieve all its war aims, including the destruction of Hamas’ governing and military capabilities.

An official with knowledge of the talks, who asked for anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomacy, said the Hamas response proposed firm timetables for not only a short-term truce but also a permanent one, and for a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Hamas also wants assurances from the United States and other mediators that a permanent cease-fire will be respected by Israel, according to another official briefed on the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomacy.

Blinken said Wednesday that Israel had accepted the proposal, which was made public in a speech by President Joe Biden 12 days ago in a move intended to put pressure on both sides to reach a deal. The proposal was endorsed Monday by the U.N. Security Council.

Blinken said the United States would unveil proposals “in the coming weeks” that it has been developing with partners in the region to address Gaza’s governance, security and reconstruction.

He spoke on the last stop of a three-day tour of the Middle East, which included a visit to Israel. It is his eighth trip to the region since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.

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