Antony Blinken Urges Hamas to Agree Truce to Help Gazans

United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken has urged Hamas to accept a Gaza truce plan despite an Israeli warning that the army will keep fighting the Palestinian militant group after any ceasefire.

Mediators have proposed a truce deal that would halt fighting for 40 days and exchange dozens of hostages for many more Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas has said it will respond “within a very short period” to the proposal.

“Hamas needs to say yes and needs to get this done,” Blinken said Wednesday while in Israel on his seventh Middle East crisis tour since the war broke out in October.

The 62-year-old later added that “If Hamas actually purports to care about the Palestinian people and wants to see an immediate alleviation of their suffering, it should take this deal.”

The top U.S. diplomat spoke after visiting the Nir Oz kibbutz, which Hamas attacked on October 7, as well as Israel’s Kerem Shalom border crossing with Gaza and Ashdod port, which Israel says will be used for aid shipments.

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan told AFP late Wednesday that the movement’s position on the truce proposal was “negative” for the time being, but that discussions were still underway.

The group’s aim remains an “end to this war”, senior Hamas official Suhail al-Hindi told AFP — a goal at odds with the stated position of Israel’s hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has vowed to send Israeli ground forces into Gaza’s far-southern city of Rafah, despite major concerns over the fate of some 1.5 million civilians sheltering there.

“We will enter Rafah and we will eliminate the Hamas battalions there with or without a deal,” Netanyahu said this week.

UN chief Antonio Guterres warned that an Israeli assault on Rafah would “be an unbearable escalation, killing thousands more civilians and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee”.

Netanyahu made his threat at a time of tensions between the traditional allies as the Gaza war has sparked global anger and weeks of pro-Palestinian demonstrations on US university campuses.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant that any Rafah operation must “include a credible plan to evacuate Palestinian civilians and maintain the flow of humanitarian aid”, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

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Comfort Samuel

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