Blinken leaves Middle East without host deal, says Hamas proposal ‘complete non-starter’
Secretary of State Antony Blinken left the Middle East after the US and Israel scrapped the latest hostile agreement proposed by Hamas on Thursday.
Blinken spent the better part of last week in talks with Israel, Egypt, Qatar and Hamas about a hostage release deal. The proposal that Hamas issued late on Tuesday contained things that Israel and the US considered unrealistic, and Blinken is now leaving without much progress being made.
“Clearly there are things that Hamas has put back that are completely non-starters,” Blinken acknowledged on Wednesday. “However, at the same time, we see room to continue pursuing an agreement. And these things are always a compromise. It does not remove the light switch. It’s not ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ There’s always a back and forth.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was less charitable with his words, calling the Hamas proposal “delusional” and again vowing that the war in Gaza would continue until the terrorist group was completely rooted out.
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The 135-day plan proposed by Hamas would have released Israeli hostages in stages – women and children first – in exchange for 1,500 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israel, including 500 Hamas was selected from a list of those serving life sentences.
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Under that proposal, male hostages over the age of 19 would be released after an initial phase of 45 days, at which point Israeli forces would withdraw from Gaza completely. .
Despite the agreement to reject the Hamas deal, Blinken continued to warn Israel for the loss of civilian life in Gaza, noting that the IDF has taken “significant steps to take” to protect civilians.
“On all my previous visits here and almost every day in between, we have put pressure on Israel in tough ways to strengthen civilian defense, to get more aid to those who need it . And over the past four months, Israel has taken important steps. to do just that,” Blinken said in a statement. “And yet… the daily toll that their military operations continue to take on innocent civilians remains too high.”
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Blinken concluded by referring to Saudi Arabia’s openness to formal ties with Israel as long as the Palestinians get a clear path to an independent state, something Netanyahu has backed away from.
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“We also remain determined to pursue a diplomatic path to a just and lasting peace, and security for all in the region, and especially for Israel,” said Blinken.
The Associated Press contributed to this report