Blinken urges Israel and Hamas to move ahead with a cease-fire deal and says "the time is now"

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was meeting with Israeli leaders on Wednesday in his push for a cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas, saying “the time is now” for an agreement that would free hostages and bring a pause in the nearly seven months of war in Gaza.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, and Israeli President Isaac Herzog
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, and Israeli President Isaac Herzog

Tel Aviv (Israel) | US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was meeting with Israeli leaders on Wednesday in his push for a cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas, saying “the time is now” for an agreement that would free hostages and bring a pause in the nearly seven months of war in Gaza.

He has said Hamas would bear the blame for any failure to get a deal off the ground.

Blinken is on his seventh visit to the region since the war erupted in October in his bid to secure what's been an elusive deal between Israel and Hamas that could avert an Israeli incursion into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are sheltering.

The current round of talks appears to be serious, but the sides remain far apart on one key issue — whether the war should end as part of an emerging deal.

“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 told Israel's ceremonial President Isaac Herzog at a meeting in Tel Aviv.

“There is a proposal on the table, and as we've said, no delays, no excuses,” he said.

The deal would also allow much needed food, medicine and water to get into Gaza, Blinken said.

As part of his visit, Blinken will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to the State Department, he will also meet with the families of hostages and visit an Israeli port where aid for Gaza is entering.

Blinken's comments came on the last leg of his regional visit, with previous stops in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, where he urged Hamas to accept the latest proposal, calling it “extraordinarily generous” on Israel's part.

But the United States has also criticized Israel for its plan to invade Rafah, Gaza's southernmost city where some 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering from fighting elsewhere, saying that any major offensive there would bring potential harm to civilians and should be avoided.

Netanyahu has repeatedly vowed to invade Rafah, which he says is Hamas' last stronghold, and on Tuesday's pledged to do so “with or without” a cease-fire deal.

The current deal that is being discussed — with brokering by the US, Egypt and Qatar — would see the release of dozens of hostages in exchange for a six-week halt in fighting as part of an initial phase, according to an Egyptian official and Israeli media.

Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel would also be released, including some serving long sentences.

But a sticking point remains over what happens next. Hamas has demanded assurances that an eventual release of all hostages will bring a complete end to Israel's nearly seven-month assault in Gaza and a withdrawal of its troops from the devastated territory.

Israel has offered only an extended pause, vowing to resume its offensive once the first phase of the deal is over. The issue has repeatedly obstructed efforts by the mediators during months of talks.

The Israel-Hamas war was sparked by the unprecedented October 7 raid into southern Israel in which militants killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted around 250 hostages. Israel says the militants are still holding around 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others.

The war in Gaza has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials. The war has driven around 80 per cent of Gaza's population of 2.3 million from their homes, caused vast destruction in several towns and cities and pushed northern Gaza to the brink of famine.

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