Blinken concludes fifth Middle East tour since outbreak of Gaza conflict: Key details inside
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken left the Middle East on Thursday, concluding a four-nation trip – his fifth to the region since the beginning of Gaza conflict. But he returned after getting a virtual slap in the face from Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, as per Associated Press.
The Israeli prime minister said the military operation in the besieged Palestinian enclave would continue until his country is completely victorious and appeared to reject outright a response from Hamas to a proposed ceasefire plan.
US officials remain optimistic despite hurdles
Relations between Israel and the US, the main international ally of the Middle Eastern nation, have been tense for months. But Netanyahu’s public rejection of a plan the US says has merit, at least as a starting point for further negotiation, underscored the divide, the agency added.
Yet Blinken said they remained optimistic that progress could be made on the main goals of improving humanitarian conditions in Gaza, securing the release of hostages held by Hamas, preventing the violence from spreading, and preparing for a post-conflict Gaza.
The Palestinian militant group of Hamas recently unveiled a series of demands in response to a ceasefire proposal. The response is a counteroffer to the proposal supported by Israel and the US and mediated by Qatar and Egypt, reported BBC.
Hamas response to ceasefire offer backed by Israel
The Reuters news agency has seen a draft of the Hamas document that suggests:
Phase 1: 45-day pause in fighting as all Israeli female hostages, males under 19, the elderly and sick would be exchanged for Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. Israeli forces would withdraw from populated areas of Gaza and the reconstruction process would begin.
Phase 2: Remaining male Israeli hostages would be exchanged for Palestinian prisoners, in addition to Israeli forces leaving the enclave completely.
Phase 3: Both sides would exchange remains and bodies.
The 135-day pause in fighting with also see deliveries of aid to Gaza increase. By the end of the process, Hamas says negotiations to end the conflict would have concluded. A previous truce in November saw the exchange of about 100 hostages for 240 Palestinians.