Ceasefire talks, hostage release 'coming closer', Blinken says

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US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken speaks during a multi-stakeholder roundtable session at the Third Summit for Democracy in Seoul on March 18, 2024.



CNN

Security negotiations US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Wednesday that an immediate ceasefire in the war in Gaza and a deal to free hostages held by Hamas is “closer”.

“I think the gaps are narrowing, and I think a deal is very possible,” Blinken told Al-Hadat in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in an interview, according to a transcript released by the State Department.

“We worked very hard with Qatar, Egypt and Israel to put a strong plan on the table. We did it; Hamas didn't accept it. They came back with other demands, other demands. The negotiators are doing that now,” Blingen explained.

Blinken did not provide details on which gaps are narrowing or what has reduced confidence that a deal is possible. President Joe Biden last month He expressed hope that a ceasefire was nearBut his administration later retracted that prediction after officials from Israel, Hamas and Qatar They distanced themselves From Biden's conviction.

Blinken reiterated that the onus is on Hamas to accept any proposal on the table, a senior Biden administration official told reporters earlier this month. The six-week ceasefire was “accepted in principle” by Israel.

“A very strong proposal was put on the table, and we have to see if Hamas can say yes to the proposal. If that happens – if it happens – this is the most immediate way to relieve the suffering of the people in Gaza, and this is what we want,” Blinken said.

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Blinken repeated The people of Gaza have not received enough aid It also called on Israel to “open more access points to Gaza.” He said it was a floating sea vessel Biden announced earlier this month Construction is underway to send large amounts of aid to the region, “and hopefully in a few weeks it will be done.”

“It's not a substitute for making sure we get as much aid on the ground as possible,” he noted.

Blinken met Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday to discuss the urgent need for a ceasefire in Gaza, according to Saudi state-run SPA news. The two discussed recent developments and “efforts to end military operations” as well as security and humanitarian conditions in the region, SPA said.

Blinken, who will travel to Egypt to meet with Arab leaders on Thursday, said in an Al-Hadad interview that it was important to be prepared for “what happens in the Gaza regime” after the war ends.

“I think it is very important to have new faces in the cabinet of the new government that will be formed, younger people – Gazans, real representatives of the West Bank and people who are willing to do what is necessary to really revive the Palestinian Authority. It can provide better for the Palestinian people – more transparency in the government, fighting corruption, and then the people's Gaining confidence,” he said.

“Now, it will also be imperative for Israel to cooperate with a new Palestinian Authority, because without that it will be very difficult to deliver results,” he added.

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Blinken would not give details on “alternatives” to an Israeli incursion into Rafah that US officials plan to discuss with Israeli officials. The United States has questioned Israel on how to protect the roughly 1.5 million Palestinians who have taken refuge in southern Gaza City ahead of a planned military operation there.

“We should have an opportunity to talk to the Israelis about this, but as I said, what we don't want to see is a major ground operation because we don't see how we can do it without causing terrible harm to civilians,” he said.

“But at the same time, it is imperative to do something about Hamas, because Hamas has brought nothing but death and destruction to the Palestinians. If you go back, Israel unilaterally pulled out of Gaza in 2006; in 2008, 2009, 2011, 2014, 2021 and 2023, Hamas attacked Israel in October. engaged in attacks. That is not a sustainable position. And it is the biggest obstacle to finding lasting peace, lasting security, including a Palestinian state, which is the only way in our judgment that can truly stand and bring lasting security to the Palestinians and the Israelis in the region,” he said.

CNN Kevin Lipdock, Kylie Atwood, Alex Marquardt and Jack Forrest contributed to this report.

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