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Blinken to push cease-fire proposal in eighth urgent Mideast trip since war in Gaza erupted

By MATTHEW LEE, AP Diplomatic Writer
Published: June 7, 2024, 11:36am

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken will push for a breakthrough on President Joe Biden’s cease-fire proposal when he returns to the Middle East next week on his eighth diplomatic mission to the region since the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza began in October, the State Department said Friday.

Blinken, who is currently in France accompanying Biden on a state visit timed to the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion during World War II, will fly from Paris to Cairo on Monday to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and other officials before traveling to Israel, Jordan and Qatar, the department said. Blinken will then go to Italy to join Biden at the summit for the Group of Seven advanced economies.

In all of his meetings, Blinken “will emphasize the importance of Hamas accepting the proposal on the table, which is nearly identical to one Hamas endorsed last month” and “discuss how the cease-fire proposal would benefit both Israelis and Palestinians,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

“He will underscore that it would alleviate suffering in Gaza, enable a massive surge in humanitarian assistance, and allow Palestinians to return to their neighborhoods,” he said in a statement. “It would unlock the possibility of achieving calm along Israel’s northern border — so both displaced Israeli and Lebanese families can return to their homes — and set the conditions for further integration between Israel and its Arab neighbors, strengthening Israel’s long-term security and improving stability across the region.”

In Israel, Blinken will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials. In Jordan, he will participate in an emergency international conference on aid to Gaza, and in Qatar he will meet with officials who are attempting to mediate the cease-fire deal.

The lightning tour comes as the Biden administration is pushing hard for Hamas to accept a three-phase cease-fire proposal that would include the release of hostages taken from Israel and held by the militant group and potentially pave the way for an end to the conflict and the reconstruction of Gaza.

Biden, Blinken and other U.S. officials have lobbied Arab nations heavily to use what influence they have with Hamas to get it to accept the deal that the president announced last week. There has been no definitive response so far, and in the absence of one, Blinken will press the case in his meetings in Egypt and Qatar, the two countries with the closest ties to Hamas.

However, Blinken may also have trouble selling the proposal — or at least its implementation — to Netanyahu.

Although the deal has been described as an Israeli initiative, some members of Netanyahu’s far-right coalition government are strongly opposed to it. And, Netanyahu himself has expressed skepticism, saying what has been presented publicly is not accurate and rejecting calls for Israel to cease all fighting until Hamas is eradicated.

Despite Blinken’s roughly once-a-month visits to the region since the war began following Hamas’ deadly attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, the conflict has ground on with more than 36,000 Palestinians killed in eight months of Israeli bombardments and ground offensives in Gaza, according to the Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians.

The war has largely cut off the flow of food, medicine and other supplies to Palestinians, who are facing widespread hunger. United Nations agencies say over 1 million in Gaza could experience the highest level of starvation by mid-July.

As the crisis has escalated, Israel has come under increasingly harsh international criticism for its actions and just this week has been excoriated for airstrikes in Gaza that have reportedly killed dozens of civilians. On Friday, Israeli strikes killed at least 18 people, including children, just a day after 33 were killed at a United Nations-run school sheltering displaced Palestinian families, health officials said.

Since mid-October, Blinken has shuttled between Israel and its Arab and Muslim neighbors, trying to boost aid to civilians in Gaza, prevent the conflict from spreading throughout the region and build support for plans for the reconstruction and governance of postwar Gaza — all while vocally backing Israel’s right to defend itself.

Israel’s offensive in Gaza has heightened political pressure in the U.S., with pro-Palestinian protests springing up at universities and resulting pushback from some who say the demonstrations have veered into antisemitism.