Shropshire Star

Antony Blinken returns to Middle East as Israel-Hamas ceasefire hangs in balance

He will meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo before traveling to Israel, Jordan and Qatar.

Mideast US Blinken

US secretary of state Antony Blinken returns to the Middle East this week as a proposed Israel-Hamas ceasefire deal hangs in the balance.

With no firm response yet from Hamas to the proposal received 10 days ago, Mr Blinken on Monday will start his eighth diplomatic mission to the region since the conflict began in October.

He will meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo before traveling to Israel, Jordan and Qatar.

While US President Joe Biden, Mr Blinken and other US officials have praised the hostage rescue, the operation resulted in the deaths of a large number of Palestinian civilians that may complicate the ceasefire push by emboldening Israel and hardening Hamas’ resolve to carry on fighting in the war it initiated with its October 7 attacks in Israel.

“It’s hard to say how Hamas will process this particular operation and what it will do to its determination about whether it will say yes or not,” Mr Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said on Sunday.

Mideast US Blinken
Mr Blinken is returning to the Middle East on Monday (Saul Loeb/AFP/AP)

“We have not gotten a formal answer from Hamas at this time.”

In his talks with el-Sissi and Qatari leaders, whose countries are the main mediators with Hamas in the ceasefire negotiations, Mr Blinken will stress the importance of persuading the militants to accept the three-phase proposal on the table.

The plan calls for the release of more hostages and a temporary pause in hostilities that could lead to the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.

“We are hopeful that with enough of a chorus, the international community all speaking with one voice, Hamas will get to the right answer,” Mr Sullivan told ABC’s This Week.

But Hamas may not be the only obstacle.

Although the deal has been described as an Israeli initiative and thousands of Israelis have demonstrated in support of the deal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed scepticism, saying what has been presented publicly is not accurate and rejecting calls for Israel to cease all fighting until Hamas is eradicated.

Mr Netanyahu’s far-right allies have threatened to collapse his government if he implements the plan, and Benny Gantz, a popular centrist, resigned on Sunday from the three-member War Cabinet after saying he would do so if the prime minister did not formulate a new plan for post-war Gaza. In the aftermath of the hostage rescue, Mr Netanyahu had urged him not to step down.

Mr Blinken has met with Mr Netanyahu, defence minister Yoav Gallant, Mr Gantz and Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid on nearly all of his previous trips to Israel.

Officials said Mr Gantz’s resignation would not necessarily affect Blinken’s schedule.

US state department spokesman Matthew Miller said on Friday that Mr Blinken would use the trip to “discuss how the ceasefire proposal would benefit both Israelis and Palestinians”.

Mr Miller said the deal would not only alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza but also set the stage for a reduction in tension along the Israel-Lebanon border and create conditions for broader Israeli integration with its Arab neighbours, strengthening Israel’s long-term security.

Despite Mr Blinken’s roughly once-a-month visits to the region since the war began, the conflict has ground on with more than 36,700 Palestinians killed, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Meanwhile, the war has severely hindered the flow of food, medicine and other supplies to Palestinians, who are facing widespread hunger.

UN agencies say more than 1 million people in Gaza could experience the highest level of starvation by mid-July.

In Jordan, Mr Blinken will participate in an emergency international conference on improving the flow of aid to Gaza.

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