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Blinken says fate of ceasefire depends on Hamas

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The day after the UN Security Council resolution was issued Agree U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said Tuesday that as a U.S.-backed ceasefire proposal for Gaza emerges, the world is waiting for a response from Hamas leaders.

Speaking to reporters in Tel Aviv, Blinken placed the blame squarely on Hamas’ leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, and asked whether it was in the best interest of the Palestinian people for Hamas to accept the deal. At a minimum, he said, the agreement would pause fighting and allow more humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza.

In addition, he said, Hamas might be “taking care of one person,” Mr. Sinwar, “who is probably safe right now, I don’t know, 10 floors underground somewhere in Gaza, while the people he claims to represent continue to suffer in the crossfire of his own making.”

Although the ceasefire plan, which President Biden says the United States supports, was originally proposed by Israel last month, Israeli officials have not publicly endorsed the plan or said whether they would abide by the deal if Hamas accepts it.

“I think there is a strong consensus again to move forward with this proposal,” Blinken said Monday after meeting with top Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“But at this point, the problem really only lies with one person,” he added, referring to Mr. Sinwar.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met with family members and supporters of Israelis held hostage in Gaza during a visit to Tel Aviv on Tuesday.Credit…Pool photos by Jack Guez

Blinken said Netanyahu gave him clear assurances that he would continue to support the proposal, though the Israeli leader raised skepticism last week when he said the idea of ​​a permanent negotiated ceasefire, which Hamas says is vital, was “not feasible.”

Asked how to reconcile such differences, Blinken stressed the importance of achieving an immediate ceasefire in the first phase of a proposed three-phase deal. “The commitment in agreeing to this proposal is to seek a lasting ceasefire,” he said. “But that has to be achieved through negotiations.”

In addition to an immediate ceasefire, the first phase of the deal calls for the release of all hostages held in Gaza in exchange for more Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, the return of displaced Gazans to their homes and a full withdrawal of Israeli troops from the territory.

The second phase calls for a permanent ceasefire with the consent of both sides, while the third phase will include a multi-year reconstruction plan for Gaza and the return of the hostages’ remains.

Blinken spoke on the terrace of a seaside Tel Aviv hotel as relatives of several Israeli hostages held in Gaza looked on after a brief meeting with them. Some held signs with photos of their loved ones and the words “Bring Them Home.”

Blinken, speaking on the second day of his eighth visit to the Middle East since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attacks on Israel, said the Security Council’s unanimous approval of the deal on Monday indicated that Hamas would be isolated if it did not agree to the proposed agreement. President Biden agreed in a May 31 speech.

“The U.N. Security Council, really representing the entire international community, made it as clear as possible that this is what the world expects,” Blinken said.

Hamas said in a statement on Monday that it “welcomes the contents of the Security Council resolution, which confirms a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, a complete withdrawal of troops, an exchange of prisoners, reconstruction, the return of displaced persons to their places of residence, the rejection of any demographic change or reduction in the Gaza Strip, and the provision of the necessary assistance to the people of the Gaza Strip.”

Mr. Blinken called the statement “a hopeful sign.” But he added that it was “the words of the Hamas leadership in Gaza” — meaning Mr. Sinwar — that mattered.

Blinken spoke to reporters before traveling to Amman, Jordan, for a meeting on humanitarian aid in Gaza. He also met with Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid and Benny GanzOn Sunday, his centrist party quit Israel’s emergency wartime government in protest at Netanyahu’s handling of the war.

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