Politics & News

Blinken Visits Middle East to Advance Ceasefire Plan

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Hamas and Israel to accept a ceasefire proposal outlined by President Joe Biden to end the war in Gaza, and endorsed by the UN Security Council.

On a trip to the Middle East, Blinken on Monday stopped in Cairo for talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. After that, he headed for Israel where he met with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

US Efforts

The US top diplomat urged countries in the region to push the proposal, reported the Associated Press (AP). In his talks with the Egyptian President, Blinken discussed plans for post-war governance and reconstruction in Gaza.

Blinken Visits Middle East to Advance Ceasefire Plan
Blinken meets Egyptian President

In Israel, Blinken stressed to Netanyahu the importance of a post-war plan in Gaza and the need to prevent the conflict from spreading.

In his talks with Netanyahu, Blinken said that “the US and other world leaders will stand behind the comprehensive proposal outlined by President Biden that would lead to an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the release of all hostages, and a significant and sustained increase in humanitarian assistance for distribution throughout Gaza,” according to the US State Department.

Three-phase Proposal

The UN Security Council adopted on Monday a three-phase plan proposed by Biden for a ceasefire in Gaza. The proposal calls for the release of more hostages and a temporary pause in fighting while negotiating the second phase. The objectives of the second phase include the release all hostages, a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and a permanent end to hostilities. The third phase of the plan calls for reconstruction in Gaza.

Hamas reacted positively to the plan, but has not formally responded to the proposal. After the UNSC endorsed the proposal, Hamas welcomed the move, saying it was ready to work with mediators in indirect negotiations with Israel to implement it.

While in Cairo, Blinken urged Hamas to accept the proposal, saying Israel has accepted it, reported Reuters. “My message to governments throughout the region, to people throughout the region, is – if you want a ceasefire, press Hamas to say ‘yes’,” he said.

Israeli Skepticism

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has expressed skepticism, saying what has been presented publicly is not accurate and that Israel is still committed to destroying Hamas.

The Israeli Prime Minister’s far-right allies have threatened to leave his government if he moves forward with the plan.

Blinken Visits Middle East to Advance Ceasefire Plan
Blinken arrival in Israel

In a massive raid on Saturday to rescue four hostages, Israel killed 274 Palestinians and injured 698 in the densely populated Al-Nuseirat camp in central Gaza, while Israeli tanks advanced further into Rafah. This adds further uncertainty to the US ceasefire proposal.

Pressing on in Gaza

After the UNSC endorsement of the ceasefire proposal, Israel vowed to move on with its military operation in Gaza, saying it won’t engage in “meaningless” negotiations with Hamas, reported CNN.

Israel’s representative to the UN, Reut Shapir Ben-Naftaly, told a UNSC meeting that her country wants to ensure that “Gaza doesn’t pose a threat to Israel in the future.” She added that the war would not end until all hostages were returned and Hamas’ capabilities were “dismantled.”

The Day After

The Israeli government has resisted calls for any “day after” plan that would prevent Israel from having security presence in Gaza. As a result, Benny Gantz, a popular centrist and a former military chief, resigned on Sunday from the three-member War Cabinet over what he called the failure to outline a plan for postwar Gaza.

In this regard, Blinken said he would urge Israel to come up with acceptable alternatives.

“It would be very good if Israel put forward its own ideas on this, and I’ll be talking to the government about that. But one way or another, we’ve got to have these plans, we’ve got to have them in place, we’ve got to be ready to go if we want to take advantage of a ceasefire,” he said

The US State Secretary is expected to meet on Tuesday with Gantz. After that, Blinken will head for Jordan and Qatar, in his eighth trip to the Middle East since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza in October 2023.

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