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07 February 2024

Blinken says ‘a lot of work’ remains on Gaza ceasefire and hostage talks

07 February 2024

US secretary of state Antony Blinken has said that “a lot of work” remains to bridge the gap between Israel and Hamas on terms for a new ceasefire and hostage-release deal after the militant group put forward conditions that run counter to Israel’s war goals.

Hamas laid out a detailed three-phase plan to unfold over four-and-a-half months, responding to a proposal drawn up by the United States, Israel, Qatar and Egypt.

The plan stipulates that all hostages would be released in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, including senior militants, and an end to the war.

Israel has made destroying Hamas’s governing and military abilities one of its wartime objectives, and the proposal would effectively leave Hamas in power in Gaza and allow it to rebuild its military capabilities.

US President Joe Biden said Hamas’s demands are “a little over the top” but that negotiations will continue.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Mr Blinken and the two discussed the latest efforts to free the hostages.

The deadliest round of fighting in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has killed more than 27,000 Palestinians, levelled entire neighbourhoods, driven the vast majority of Gaza’s population from their homes and pushed a quarter of the population to starvation.

Iran-backed militant groups across the region have conducted attacks, mostly on US and Israeli targets, in solidarity with the Palestinians, drawing reprisals as the risk of a wider conflict grows.

Israel remains deeply shaken by Hamas’s October 7 attack, in which militants burst through the country’s vaunted defences and rampaged across southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducting some 250, around half of whom remain in captivity in Gaza.

Mr Netanyahu says the war, now in its fifth month, will continue until “total victory” over Hamas and the return of all the remaining hostages.

Mr Blinken, who is on his fifth visit to the region since the war broke out, is trying to advance the ceasefire talks while pushing for a larger post-war settlement in which Saudi Arabia would normalise relations with Israel in return for a “clear, credible, time-bound path to the establishment of a Palestinian state”.

But the increasingly unpopular Mr Netanyahu is opposed to Palestinian statehood, and his hawkish governing coalition could collapse if he is seen as making too many concessions.

“There’s a lot of work to be done, but we are very much focused on doing that work,” Mr Blinken told Israel’s ceremonial president, Isaac Herzog.

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