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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Blinken presses Hamas to accept Israel’s latest cease-fire proposal



Secretary of State Antony Blinken listens to President Joe Biden speak during a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Nov. 21, 2023. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)

By Edward Wong


Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during meetings with Israeli leaders Wednesday that Hamas leaders could save Palestinian lives by accepting a proposed deal under which they would free 33 hostages in exchange for a six-week cease-fire and the liberation of many Palestinian prisoners.


Blinken’s comments, in Tel Aviv, Israel, and Jerusalem, are part of a concerted campaign by President Joe Biden and his top aides to press Hamas leaders to lay the foundation for a potential long-term cease-fire by taking this first step.


“We are determined to get a cease-fire that brings the hostages home and to get it now, and the only reason that that wouldn’t be achieved is because of Hamas,” Blinken said at the start of a meeting in Tel Aviv with Israeli President Isaac Herzog. “There is a proposal on the table, and as we’ve said, no delays, no excuses. The time is now, and the time is now long past due to bring the hostages home to their families.”


Blinken made the same comments to reporters the previous evening outside a humanitarian aid warehouse in Zarqa, Jordan. Earlier this week, Biden spoke to the leaders of Qatar and Egypt to urge them to push Hamas to accept the terms, after Israel agreed to lower the required number of hostages released in the initial round to 33 from 40.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel supports the latest proposed deal, but at the same time he vowed Tuesday to carry out a major offensive in the city of Rafah “with or without a deal” — a declaration that could make Hamas more wary of agreeing to the terms. Biden administration officials oppose a major ground assault in Rafah, where more than 1 million Palestinians have sought refuge during the war, and would prefer the Israeli military kill or capture Hamas leaders in more precise operations there.


Israeli officials say their objective is to eliminate four battalions of Hamas fighters in Rafah.


In November, Hamas freed more than 100 hostages during a seven-day cease-fire, but talks to try to get more hostages out of the Gaza Strip have been stalled for months. Israeli officials say Hamas took about 240 hostages in the Oct. 7 attacks last year, but some have died in captivity, and at least three were fatally shot by Israeli forces in Gaza.


Blinken discussed the hostage and cease-fire deal on the table in his nearly three-hour meeting with Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Wednesday, according to a summary from the State Department. He also spoke about efforts to increase humanitarian aid in Gaza and the U.S. government’s “clear position” on Rafah, the summary said.


Yair Lapid, the leader of the opposition in the Israeli parliament, also spoke with Blinken. Afterward, Lapid said in a social media post that Netanyahu had “no political excuse” not to make a deal to declare a cease-fire and free the hostages, adding that “every hour is critical.”


After leaving Jerusalem, Blinken visited Kibbutz Nir Oz in the south, where he entered the burned-out home of the family of Kedem Siman Tov. The five members of the household, two parents and three young children, all U.S. citizens, were killed in the Oct. 7 attacks. The father’s mother, Carol Siman Tov, also a U.S. citizen, was killed in the same kibbutz.


Blinken then stopped at the inspection checkpoint at Kerem Shalom, a border crossing between Israel and Gaza. Flatbed trucks with bags of food aid bound for Gaza — onions, rice and cooking oil — were awaiting inspection.


Israeli officials said a new crossing into northern Gaza, near the Erez kibbutz, had just opened to allow aid deliveries and that 30 trucks with goods from Jordan had rolled through the Erez border site earlier Wednesday. The opening was promised weeks ago, but the Israeli military said it had to build inspection facilities and pave roads on both sides of the border before the crossing could be used by aid trucks.


Blinken has made humanitarian aid for residents of Gaza a theme of his stops in Israel and in Jordan the previous day. He visited an aid warehouse in Jordan on Tuesday evening where trucks were being loaded with food and medical aid to go to Erez for the initial opening Wednesday.


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


Earlier this week, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, turned down an offer to meet with Blinken in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, according to two Palestinian officials and a State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to communicate with the media.


Palestinian leaders are increasingly frustrated with Washington, especially after the United States blocked the United Nations from recognizing Palestine as a full member state.

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