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Blinken Back In Mideast To Push Gaza Truce Talks As Israeli Troops Advance

Blinken was also expected to meet Gantz during his visit, a senior US official said (File)

Cairo, Egypt:

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was back in the Middle East on Monday to promote a Gaza truce and hostage release plan as Israeli bombardment again rocked the besieged Palestinian territory. 

After a stop in Egypt to meet President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Blinken was due to head to Israel for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on how to end the conflict raging since Hamas’s October 7 attack.

Netanyahu has been politically buoyed in Israel by a successful, though bloody, hostage rescue mission on Saturday — but damaged by the departure of a member of his war cabinet, Benny Gantz, on Sunday.

Gantz, a former army chief, criticised Netanyahu especially for failing to outline a post-war governance plan for Gaza, arguing that tough decisions are needed to achieve “real victory”.

The centrist also challenged Netanyahu to set a date for elections, a demand shared by a protest movement that has regularly and noisily taken to Israel’s streets against the right-wing government.

Blinken was also expected to meet Gantz during his visit, a senior US official said.

The war meanwhile ground on unabated, with witnesses reporting helicopter gunfire and naval shelling hitting Gaza City, and air strikes raining down on Deir al-Balah.

Street battles raged in the southern areas of Rafah and Khan Yunis, where bodies were seen lying in the streets and Palestinian civilians were fleeing, an AFP correspondent said.

The latest clashes follow major combat and heavy airstrikes during Saturday’s hostage rescue mission in the Nuseirat camp.

‘Bloodbath must end’

While Israelis celebrated their return in good health, Palestinians condemned a massive death count, with Gaza health officials saying 274 people were killed and almost 700 injured, many of them women and children.

In the aftermath of the intense battle, Palestinians were searching for survivors and bodies in the rubble of collapsed buildings as charred cars and debris littered a devastated neighbourhood coated in concrete dust.

“People were screaming — young and old, women and men,” recounted Muhannad Thabet, 35, a local resident who survived the fighting.

“Everyone wanted to flee the place, but the bombing was intense and anyone who moved was at risk of being killed due to the heavy bombardment and gunfire.”

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell welcomed the hostage rescue but also demanded that “the bloodbath must end immediately”.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz vowed that Israel will keep fighting “in accordance with our right to self-defence, until all of the hostages are freed and Hamas is defeated”.

The bloodiest ever Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Hamas also seized 251 hostages, more than 100 of whom were released during a November truce. After Saturday’s rescue mission, 116 hostages remain in Gaza, although the army says 41 of them are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory military offensive has killed at least 37,124 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.

The count includes at least 40 deaths over the past 24 hours, the ministry said on Monday.

The war has brought widespread devastation to Gaza and displaced most of its 2.4 million inhabitants, many of whom UN agencies warn are on the brink of starvation.

UN Security Council

The long war and siege, the spiralling Palestinian death count and the utter devastation of vast swathes of Gaza have heaped global pressure on Israel to stop the conflict.

US President Joe Biden made a renewed push to halt the fighting when he presented what he called an Israeli truce proposal on May 31 and urged Hamas to agree to it.

Talks resumed soon after between US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators, but without achieving a breakthrough so far.

Hamas has yet to formally respond, and its officials have insisted that any agreement must guarantee a permanent end to the war — a demand Israel has firmly rejected as it has vowed to destroy Hamas and free the remaining captives.

Washington has laid out the latest proposal in a draft resolution before the UN Security Council, where it has previously blocked a number of ceasefire resolutions.

The first phase would see an “immediate, full and complete ceasefire”, the release of hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, and the “withdrawal of Israeli forces from the populated areas in Gaza”.

This would also allow the “safe and effective distribution of humanitarian assistance at scale throughout the Gaza Strip to all Palestinian civilians who need it,” according to the draft text seen by AFP.

Diplomatic sources said a vote was planned for Monday but has not yet been confirmed.

Blinken was expected to promote the plan on his eighth regional crisis tour since the war broke out, with stops also planned in Jordan and Qatar.

“The only thing standing in the way of achieving this ceasefire is Hamas,” Blinken said Saturday. “It is time for them to accept the deal.”

In Egypt, Blinken was also expected to speak to Sisi about solutions to open the key crossing into Gaza at Rafah.

The month-long closure has worsened the humanitarian disaster in Gaza, sending prices of scarce goods skyrocketing and worsening fears of famine in the besieged territory.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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