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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 19 June 2024

US secretary of state Antony Blinken pushes for West Asia truce

Speaking after meeting Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo on the first stop on his trip, Blinken said Hamas was the only side that had yet to agree to Biden’s ceasefire proposal, which Washington says Israel has already accepted

Reuters Cairo Published 11.06.24, 06:38 AM
US secretary of state Antony Blinken

US secretary of state Antony Blinken File image

US secretary of state Antony Blinken arrived in West Asia on Monday hoping to deliver the ceasefire that President Joe Biden proposed last month, in an all-out push by Washington to secure an end to the Gaza war.

Speaking after meeting Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo on the first stop on his trip, Blinken said Hamas was the only side that had yet to agree to Biden’s ceasefire proposal, which Washington says Israel has already accepted.

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“My message to governments throughout the region, to people throughout the region, is if you want a ceasefire, press Hamas to say yes,” Blinken told reporters before departing Egypt to visit Israel where he was due to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sisi said it was important to lift obstacles to humanitarian aid for Gazans.

Ahead of his trip, Israel and Hamas both doubled down on hardline positions that have scuppered all previous attempts to end the fighting, while Israel has pressed on with assaults in central and southern Gaza, among the bloodiest of the war.

“We are committed to total victory,” Netanyahu said in a statement released by his office, quoting remarks he made on Sunday to relatives of Israelis killed in Gaza.

“What is the main dispute? It is over Hamas’ demand ... that we commit to stopping the war without achieving our goals of eliminating Hamas.... I am not prepared to do so.”

Hamas, for its part, said Washington must push its ally Israel to halt the fighting.

“We call upon the US administration to put pressure on the occupation to stop the war on Gaza, and the Hamas movement is ready to deal positively with any initiative that secures an end to the war,” senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.

The war has now entered its ninth month since Hamas-led fighters killed 1,200 people and took some 250 others hostage in a rampage through southern Israel. In response, Israel launched an assault on the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians and reduced most of the enclave to wasteland.

Palestinian officials said 40 more bodies arrived in hospitals over the past 24 hours. Thousands more dead are believed buried under rubble.

Rafah assaults

In Rafah, the city on the southern edge of Gaza where Israel launched an offensive last month in defiance of White House pleas, residents said on Monday tanks had been trying to thrust deeper towards the north in the early hours of the morning. They were on the edge of Shaboura, one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods at the heart of the city.

Around half of the Gaza Strip’s 2.3 million people had been sheltering in Rafah before last month’s assault, and a million have had to flee again.

Since last week, Israel has also launched a large assault in the central Gaza Strip, around the small city of Deir al-Balah, the last population centre yet to be stormed. On Monday, residents said the Israelis had pulled back from some areas there but were keeping up air strikes.

Residents in Nuseirat north of Deir al-Balah were still clearing debris after Israel freed four hostages in a massive raid there on Saturday. Palestinian officials say 274 people were killed, making it one of the deadliest assaults of the war. Israeli forces said they were aware of under 100 Palestinians killed there and did not know how many were combatants.

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