Blinken says US will try to bridge Israel-Hamas gaps on deal

AFP , AP , Wednesday 12 Jun 2024

Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed Wednesday to keep pressing to seal a Gaza ceasefire deal, saying that not all Hamas demands were acceptable but voicing hope that gaps could be closed.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a joint press conference with the Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani in Doha, Qatar. AP


Consulting with key mediator Qatar on the Hamas response to President Joe Biden's plan, Blinken said Hamas could have given a "clear and simple yes" but voiced guarded hope for moving forward.

Of the demands of Hamas, Blinken said "some of the changes are workable, some are not".

He did not spell out what the changes were. Speaking to reporters in Qatar, Blinken said the US and other mediators will keep trying to “close this deal.”

"We're determined to try to bridge the gaps. And I believe those gaps are bridgeable," Blinken said. "That doesn't mean they will be bridged because, ultimately, Hamas has to decide," he said.

"The longer this goes on, the more people will suffer, and it's time for the haggling to stop."

Blinken is in the region to push a cease-fire proposal with global support that has not been fully embraced by Israel or Hamas. The militant group submitted its first official response late Tuesday, requesting “amendments” to the deal.

Hamas has expressed support for the broad outline of the deal but wariness over whether Israel would implement its terms.

Hamas spokesman Jihad Taha told the Lebanese news outlet ElNashra that the “amendments” requested by the group include guarantees of a permanent cease-fire and the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.

Hamas's official reply to the proposal, which it conveyed to mediators on Tuesday, appeared to be short of outright acceptance but kept negotiations alive. Qatar and Egypt, which have been key mediators alongside the United States, said they were studying it.

The proposal has raised hopes of ending a conflict in which Israel's bombardment and ground offensives in Gaza have killed over 37,000 Palestinians, most of whom are women and children, and driven some 80% of the population of 2.3 million from their homes. Israeli restrictions have hindered efforts to bring humanitarian aid to the isolated coastal enclave, fueling widespread hunger.

The proposal announced by Biden calls for a three-phase plan that would begin with a six-week cease-fire and the release of some captives in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. Israeli forces would withdraw from populated areas and Palestinian civilians would be allowed to return to their homes.

Phase one also requires the safe distribution of humanitarian assistance "at scale throughout the Gaza Strip," which Biden said would lead to 600 trucks of aid entering Gaza every day.

At the same time, negotiations would be launched over the second phase, which is to bring "a permanent end to hostilities," in exchange for all captives still in Gaza being released, and "a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza."

Phase three would launch “a major multi-year reconstruction plan for Gaza," and the return of the remains of any deceased captives to their next of kin.

The militant group accepted a similar proposal last month that was rejected by Israel.

Netanyahu's far-right coalition allies have rejected the latest proposal and have threatened to bring down his government if he ends the war leaving Hamas intact. But Netanyahu is also under mounting pressure to accept a deal to bring the captives back. Thousands of Israelis, including families of the captives, have demonstrated in favor of the US-backed plan.

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