Blinken Says a Lot of Work Remains on Cease-Fire and Hostage Talks as War in Gaza Enters 5th Month


TEL AVIV—U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that “a lot of work” remains to bridge the gap between Israel and the Hamas terrorist group on terms for a new cease-fire and hostage-release deal.

Hamas laid out a three-phase plan to unfold over 4 1/2 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 made destroying Hamas one of its wartime objectives, and Hamas’ proposal would leave it in power in Gaza and allow it to rebuild its military capabilities. President Joe Biden said Hamas’ demands are “a little over the top” but that negotiations will continue.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Mr. Blinken, and the two discussed the latest efforts to free the hostages. Both men were scheduled to hold separate news conferences later Wednesday.

The deadliest round of fighting in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has killed over 27,000 Palestinians, leveled entire neighborhoods, and driven the vast majority of Gaza’s population from their homes.

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

Israel remains deeply shaken by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, in which terrorists burst through the country’s vaunted defenses and rampaged across southern Israel, killing more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducting some 250, around half of whom remain hostages 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 cease-fire talks while pushing for a larger postwar settlement in which Saudi Arabia would normalize relations with Israel in return for a “clear, credible, time-bound path to the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

But, 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,” Blinken told Israel’s ceremonial president, Isaac Herzog.

Misery Deepens in Devastated Gaza

There is little talk of grand diplomatic bargains in Gaza, where Palestinians yearn for an end to fighting that has upended every aspect of their lives.

“We pray to God that it stops,” said Ghazi Abu Issa, who fled his home and sought shelter in the central town of Deir al-Balah. “There is no water, electricity, food, or bathrooms.” Those living in tents have been drenched by winter rains and flooding. “We have been humiliated,” he said.

New mothers struggle to get baby formula and diapers, which can only be bought at vastly inflated prices if they can be found at all.

The Palestinian death toll from four months of war has reached 27,707, according to the Hamas-controlled Gaza health ministry. The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its figures.

Israel has ordered Palestinians to evacuate areas that make up two-thirds of the tiny coastal territory. Most of the displaced are packed into the southern town of Rafah near the border with Egypt, where many are living in squalid tent camps and overflowing U.N.-run shelters.

Hamas has continued to put up stiff resistance across the territory, and its police force has returned to the streets in places where Israeli troops have pulled back. Hamas is still holding over 130 hostages, but around 30 of them are believed to be dead, with the vast majority killed on Oct. 7.

Israelis Agonize Over Fate of Captives

Israelis are intensely focused on the plight of the hostages, fearful that time is running out.

More than 100 hostages, mostly women and children, were freed during a weeklong cease-fire in November in exchange for the release of 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Thousands of Israelis have taken part in weekly protests calling for the release of the hostages.

Shurafa reported from Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip, and Magdy from Cairo. Associated Press writer Abby Sewell in Beirut contributed to this report.


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