Blinken urges Hamas to agree truce to help Gazans

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - ASHDOD (Israel), May 2 — US top diplomat Antony Blinken urged Hamas on Wednesday to accept a Gaza truce plan despite an Israeli warning that the army will keep fighting the Palestinian militant group after any ceasefire.

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

He later added: “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.”

Blinken 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.


A Hamas official said the Islamist group would respond “within a very short period” to a plan proposed by mediators to halt the fighting for 40 days and to exchange dozens of hostages for many more Palestinian prisoners.

But 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.

The premier on Tuesday repeated his vow 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 told a group representing families of remaining hostages in Gaza.

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 shortly before the arrival of Blinken and 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.

Blinken said Wednesday that he again made clear to Israeli leaders Washington’s opposition to a major attack on Rafah.

“There are other ways — and in our judgement, better ways — of dealing with the real ongoing challenge of Hamas that does not require a major military operation” in Rafah, Blinken told reporters.

‘Sustainable calm’

Talks on a potential truce and hostage release deal to pause the bloodiest ever Gaza war have been held in Cairo, involving US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators.

An Israeli official told AFP the government would wait for an answer from Hamas until Wednesday night before it decides whether to send its envoys back to the indirect talks in Egypt’s capital.

Hindi, speaking by phone from an undisclosed location, said there is “great interest from Hamas and all Palestinian resistance factions to end this insane war on the Palestinian people, which has consumed everything”.

“But it will not be at any cost,” he added, stressing that the group “cannot under any circumstances raise the white flag or surrender to the conditions of the Israeli enemy”.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry called on all sides to “show the necessary flexibility” to achieve a deal “that stops the bloodshed of Palestinians”, during a visit to Cairo by his French counterpart Stephane Sejourne.

Analysts voiced doubts whether Hamas would sign up to another temporary ceasefire, knowing that Israeli troops could resume their onslaught as soon as it is over.

“I’m pessimistic about the option of Hamas agreeing to a deal that doesn’t have a permanent ceasefire baked into it,” said Mairav Zonszein, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.

A source with knowledge of the negotiations said Israel’s proposal contained “real concessions” including a period of “sustainable calm” following an initial pause in fighting.

‘More rubble than Ukraine’

The war started with Hamas’ October 7 attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The militants also took about 250 hostages. Israel estimates that 129 captives remain in Gaza, but the military says 34 of them are dead.

Israel’s massive retaliatory offensive has killed at least 34,568 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

After nightfall, witnesses said airstrikes continued on areas of central Gaza and Gaza City, and a senior official at Gaza’s civil defence agency told AFP that six decomposed bodies had been recovered in Khan Yunis.

Widespread bombing has left Gaza filled with “more rubble than Ukraine”, a UN agency said, warning that clearance efforts will be hampered by unexploded ordnance and toxic asbestos.

Israel has faced mounting international pressure over its conduct of war, with Colombia on Wednesday announcing that it was cutting diplomatic ties — a move Israel said was a “reward” for Hamas.

Israel also imposed a siege on Gaza’s 2.4 million people that has sharply restricted access to food, drinking water, medicines, fuel and power.

UN agencies have warned that without urgent intervention, famine looms in Gaza, and the United States has also strongly urged Israel to speed up relief good deliveries.

“The progress is real, but given the immense need in Gaza, it needs to be accelerated. It needs to be sustained,” said Blinken as he visited the port of Ashdod, reopened to aid after US appeals.

On Tuesday, Blinken saw off a Jordanian aid convoy that was heading to the newly reopened Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza.

The Israeli army confirmed that “for the first time since the beginning of the war, the Erez crossing has been opened for the entry of humanitarian aid”.

Earlier in the day, Blinken was greeted in Tel Aviv by Israeli demonstrators campaigning for the hostages, many waving US flags and chanting, “Thank you, Biden! Thank you, Blinken!”

Blinken told them that freeing the hostages is “at the heart of everything we’re trying to do”. — AFP

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