Blinken in Israel voices hope for Gaza truce deal to free Israeli captives

AFP , Ahram Online , Wednesday 7 Feb 2024

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on a visit to Israel Wednesday voiced hope for a Gaza ceasefire and hostage release deal but cautioned that more negotiations were needed.

Antony Blinken   Benjamin Netanyahu
File Photo: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at press conference after their meeting in Tel Aviv . AP



"There's a lot of work to be done, but we are very much focused on doing that work and hopefully being able to resume the release of hostages that was interrupted" after a week-long truce in November, he said.

As Blinken met Israeli leaders in Jerusalem, an Egyptian official told AFP that "a new round of negotiations" would start on Thursday in Cairo aimed at achieving "calm in the Gaza Strip", now in its fifth month of war.

A Hamas source with knowledge of the matter said the Palestinian militant group had agreed to the talks, with the goal of "a ceasefire, an end to the war and a prisoner exchange deal."

Last week, a Hamas source said the proposed new truce calls for a six-week pause to fighting and a hostage-prisoner exchange, as well as more aid for Gaza, but negotiations have continued since.

The US top envoy, on his fifth Middle East tour since 7 October, met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders of his war cabinet.

On the eve of their talks, Netanyahu had said that Israel's overall war aim remained unchanged: "We are on the way to the total victory and we will not stop."

Blinken also made a new plea for more aid into Gaza, whose 2.4 million people have endured a crippling siege and severe shortages of clean water, food, fuel and medical supplies.

"We all have an obligation to do everything possible to get the necessary assistance to those who so desperately need it," Blinken said, "and the steps that are being taken -- additional steps that need to be taken -- are the focus of my own meetings here."

Blinken later travelled to the occupied West Bank where he met Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas

'Living a horror movie' 


For now, the war raged on unabated in Gaza, where the health ministry said at least 123 people were killed in the past 24 hours and AFP journalists reported more heavy bombing of southern cities.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that if Israel presses into Gaza's far-southern Rafah, it "would exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare with untold regional consequences".

"It is time for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the unconditional release of all hostages", he added in a speech to the General Assembly.

AFPTV footage showed frantic scenes of Palestinians running for their lives, many screaming, as gunfire rang out from advancing Israeli forces in a Gaza City neighbourhood.

Hamas captured 250 Israelis and individuals from other nationalities on 7 October.

The Palestinian group released tens of captives as part of the November truce deal but still holds 132 Israelis captured on 7 October

Meanwhile, Israel has been holding more than 6,000 Palestinian political prisoners in its jails -  many for years and decades

Moreover, Israel has arrested more than 6,500 Palestinians in deadly raids on various towns in the occupied West Bank since 7 October.

Israeli air strikes and a ground offensive have killed at least 27,708 people, mostly women and children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

In Israel, the Hostages and Missing Families Forum said those still in captivity "face darkness, hunger, fear, loneliness and sexual abuse" and warned that "if we don't get them out of there immediately, they may not survive another day."

At least 29 Israeli captives have been killed in Israeli bombing on Gaza.

Fear has grown among the more than one million Palestinians now crowded into Gaza's far south, around the city of Rafah on the Egyptian border, as the battlefront has crept ever closer.

"I am terrified that Israel will begin a ground operation in Rafah," said Dana Ahmed, 40, who was displaced from Gaza City with her three children and now lives in a tent in Rafah.

She said she spent a sleepless night as Israeli fighter jets roared through the sky and explosions shook the ground.

"I cannot imagine what will happen to us," she said. "Where will we go now? The situation is catastrophic. I feel like I am living a horror movie."

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