Hamas needs to make decision on Israel truce offer, US says

Courtney McBride | Bloomberg News (TNS)

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged leaders of Hamas to quickly reach a decision on Israeli conditions for a temporary cease-fire, a move that could help bring an end to fighting in Gaza.

Israel has been “extraordinarily generous” with proposals made during talks mediated by Qatar and Egypt to secure the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas, Blinken said at a special event of the World Economic Forum in Riyadh on Monday. He wasn’t more specific about the offer on the table.

The U.S. diplomat traveled to the region — his seventh trip to the Middle East since the Israel-Hamas conflict began in early October — to push for at least a pause in hostilities under a temporary cease-fire agreement. Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union, is expected to respond on Monday to the Jewish state’s latest offer, Agence France-Presse has reported.

The U.S, supports Israeli efforts to defend itself and prevent future attacks, and is determined to bring an end to the current conflict, Blinken said. President Joe Biden’s administration has repeatedly urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to do more to protect civilians of Gaza, while remaining a staunch ally and supplier of arms.

Hamas has been presented with a “proposal that is extraordinarily generous on the part of Israel. The only thing that’s standing between the people of Gaza and a cease-fire is Hamas,” Blinken said. “They have to decide quickly.”

Israel may be willing to compromise on the number of hostages freed in an initial phase of any deal, Israeli media reported last week. Hamas had said it can’t free 40 women, elderly or sick captives as demanded in return for a six-week cease-fire because it doesn’t have enough hostages in that category.

Meetings blitz

Blinken’s first stop in his latest trip to the region is Saudi Arabia, where the U.S. is eager to see the forging of diplomatic ties with Israel.

Work between the kingdom and the U.S. is “very close to completion,” he said. Further progress in restoring full ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel requires peace in Gaza and a roadmap for the creation of a future Palestinian state, he said.

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The top U.S. diplomat spoke amid a blitz of meetings, including with foreign ministers of Gulf Cooperation Council countries and representatives from Egypt, Jordan and Qatar, among others.

Blinken is also due to travel to Jordan and Israel in his push for the cease-fire deal, after months of deadlocked talks between the Jewish state and Hamas. The U.S. is seeking to persuade Israel to call off an invasion of Rafah, the southern Gaza city where more than a million Palestinians have taken refuge.

On Oct. 7, Hamas attacked Israel in surprise raids, killing over 1,200 people and taking around 250 as hostages. More than 34,000 Palestinians were killed in the ensuing Israeli campaign, according to Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza.

(With assistance from Christine Burke and Dana Khraiche.)

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