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Blinken: 'The only thing standing between the people of Gaza and a ceasefire is Hamas'

In Saudi capital, US secretary of state urges Hamas to accept Israel's 'extraordinarily, extraordinarily generous' proposal for truce

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with representatives from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan and the PLO, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 29, 2024 (Photo: Antony Blinken/X)

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Arab leaders in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on Monday to push for a deal between Israel and the Hamas terror group, ahead of Israel’s impending ground incursion into Rafah.

Blinken urged Hamas to quickly accept Israel’s latest proposal offered over the weekend, calling it “extraordinarily generous.”

A senior Hamas official said the terror organization had no “major issues” with the most recent plan for a truce. Hamas negotiators were expected to meet with Qatari and Egyptian mediators in Cairo on Monday to deliver a response to the proposed deal.

“Hamas has before it a proposal that is extraordinarily, extraordinarily generous on the part of Israel,” Blinken said at a special meeting of the World Economic Forum held in Riyadh.

“And in this moment, the only thing standing between the people of Gaza and a ceasefire is Hamas.”

“They have to decide, and they have to decide quickly,” he added. “I’m hopeful that they will make the right decision.”

Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Cameron, who was also in Riyadh for the WEF meeting, also described Israel's proposal as “generous.”

The proposed deal includes a 40-day pause in fighting and the release of potentially thousands of Palestinian prisoners, as well as Israeli hostages.

“I hope Hamas do take this deal and frankly, all the pressure in the world and all the eyes in the world should be on them today saying ‘take that deal,'” Cameron said.

Foreign Ministers from France, Jordan and Egypt also attended the meeting and pushed for an end to the war in Gaza.

Israel’s original proposal includes the release of 40 of the roughly 133 hostages believed to be still held by the terror group in exchange for freeing thousands of Palestinian prisoners jailed in Israel. The second phase of the truce would have a “period of sustained calm” – Israel’s compromised response to Hamas’ demand for a permanent ceasefire.

Three Israeli officials later confirmed to The New York Times that Israel compromised even further by dropping its demand from 40 hostages to 33, amid assessments that some of the 40 hostages have died in captivity.

The hostages Israel is calling on Hamas to release are women, children, men over 50, and those who are sick.

As Israel awaits a response from Hamas to the latest proposal, a delegation is expected to travel to Cairo on Tuesday for further negotiations.

According to the Walla news site, Israeli officials are “still waiting for Yahya Sinwar’s answer.”

Sinwar is the top Hamas leader based in Gaza and is believed to have been the mastermind behind the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Some reports suggested he may have crossed over into Egypt via the Rafah crossing some time ago.

The Israeli team of negotiators will include Mossad chief, David Barnea, and Shin Bet Director Ronen Bar if the deal advances, according to Channel 12 News.

Sources also told Channel 12 that Israel has made “dramatic” concessions in its offer to Hamas, and that a deal could quickly be reached if the terror organization drops its demands for an end to the war and the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.

Israel has indicated to Egyptian mediators that, in the second phase of a deal, it would be prepared to discuss “long-term calm” in Gaza in exchange for the return of all of the remaining hostages, according to Channel 12.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi agreed that the anticipated Israeli ground operation in Rafah can and should wait until after a hostage deal is forged.

The state secretary's visit to Saudi Arabia is the first stop in the most recent series of trips to the Middle East since the war began between Israel and Hamas on Oct. 7, when Hamas stormed Israel’s southern border and massacred 1,200 civilians and kidnapped more than 250 to the Gaza strip.

Blinken said the U.S. could not support an Israeli ground operation in Rafah, where four intact Hamas battalions are believed to be holding out.

U.S. President Joe Biden previously stated that the U.S. would only support the operation if Israel had a “plan to ensure that civilians will not be harmed.”

Israel says it has expanded humanitarian zones for the 1 million Gazans currently living in the southernmost city and vowed to protect civilians there.

Blinken also said the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have done significant work towards a normalization deal between the Saudi kingdom and Israel over the past few months. The deal reportedly includes bilateral defense and security commitments between Washington and Saudi Arabia, as well as nuclear cooperation between the two nations.

Israeli-Saudi normalization attempts were disrupted by the war in Gaza last October, shortly after Hamas terrorists invaded Israel on Oct. 7, committing acts of brutality, murder and rape against civilians, including women, children and Holocaust survivors.

According to Blinken, U.S. and Saudi elements of the accord are “potentially very close to completion.”

“To move forward with normalization, two things will be required: calm in Gaza and a credible pathway to a Palestinian state,” Blinken said.

In return for normalization, Arab states were also pushing for Israel to accept a Palestinian state to be established in the West Bank, known as biblical Judea and Samaria – land that was captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.

So far, Palestinian statehood alongside the State of Israel has been repeatedly rejected by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to The Times of Israel, during an earlier meeting with Gulf Arab states, Blinken emphasized that establishing a ceasefire to facilitate the release of hostages held by Hamas was the most effective way to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza and pave the way for a more lasting solution.

On Monday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah said an agreement between Washington and Riyadh over normalization was “very, very close”.

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry reported that more than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Strip, but the number cannot be independently verified and is believed to include both Hamas terrorists and civilians, some of whom were killed as a consequence of the rocket misfires by the terror group.

Israel Defense Forces says it has eliminated over 13,000 terrorists in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 who were killed inside Israel on and immediately following the Oct. 7 attack. The IDF also says 261 soldiers have been killed since the beginning of ground operations in the coastal enclave.

Last week, the U.S. and 17 other countries demanded that Hamas release all the hostages.

“We call for the immediate release of all hostages held by Hamas in Gaza for over 200 days. They include our own citizens,” the joint statement said.

“The fate of the hostages and the civilian population in Gaza, who are protected under international law, is of international concern.” 

The letter was signed by the leaders of the U.S., Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Spain, Thailand and the United Kingdom.

“We emphasize that the deal on the table to release the hostages would bring an immediate and prolonged ceasefire in Gaza, that would facilitate a surge of additional necessary humanitarian assistance to be delivered throughout Gaza, and lead to the credible end of hostilities,” the statement read.

“Gazans would be able to return to their homes and their lands with preparations beforehand to ensure shelter and humanitarian provisions."

Senior Israeli officials have repeatedly warned Hamas that unless the hostages are soon released, the IDF will launch a military incursion into Rafah.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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