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Blinken welcomes Hamas backing of deal, awaits Sinwar agreement


SWEIMEH, Jordan — Hamas submitted a response to a U.S.-backed cease-fire proposal in Gaza on Tuesday to officials in Qatar and Egypt, according to a statement from the group. The response asked for reassurances about an end to the war, according to an official with knowledge of the talks.

The response came after Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Hamas to accept the current proposal “without delay” during talks with Middle Eastern leaders and after the U.N. Security Council backed the U.S.-sponsored plan in a resolution Monday. Hamas welcomed the resolution.

The official with knowledge of the talks said that Hamas’s response had contained “amendments to the Israeli proposal, including a timeline for a permanent cease-fire and the complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip.” The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing diplomatic effort.

“The response prioritizes the interest of our Palestinian people, the necessity of completely stopping the ongoing aggression against Gaza, and withdrawing from the entire Gaza Strip,” Hamas said in a statement that was also attributed to another Gaza-based militant group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

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National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said it is “certainly helpful that we have a response. … We’ve been eagerly awaiting a response,” but he said he would reserve comment until he had a chance to fully examine the response.

Blinken is touring the Middle East to push for a deal and a release of hostages from the Gaza Strip after months of violence and high death tolls.

Although the United States has described the cease-fire draft as an Israeli proposal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sought to distance himself from it, stating repeatedly that Israel will not end the war until Hamas has been destroyed.

On Tuesday, the top U.S. diplomat met with United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Mustafa. During the talks, Blinken stressed that “the current proposal on the table would benefit both Israelis and Palestinians,” according to State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller.

Blinken and the officials discussed the importance of humanitarian aid to Gaza and the need to reach a cease-fire that secures the release of all hostages and allows those who have been displaced to return home, Miller said. Officials also discussed the future of the enclave, including reconstruction, governance and security.

During his meeting with Mustafa, Blinken “reaffirmed the United States’ support for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with security guarantees for Israel,” Miller said. Blinken also met with King Abdullah II of Jordan, whom he thanked for supporting the agreement and helping to facilitate the delivery of aid to Gaza.

Blinken on Tuesday also announced an additional $404 million in aid to Gaza as he spoke in Jordan.

“Hospitals in Gaza are unable to operate and provide assistance,” Blinken said as he called on other nations to increase support to the enclave. “We need to ensure more aid is delivered to Gaza,” he said, noting that the fresh pledge of almost half a billion in aid adds to the more than $1.8 billion the United States has provided to the Palestinians since 2021.

The State Department said the additional funding to Gaza from the United States will provide “essential support to vulnerable Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and the region, including food, safe drinking water, health care, protection, education, shelter, and psychosocial support.”

Hamas on Monday “emphasize[d] its readiness to cooperate with the mediators” on negotiations for the cease-fire plan endorsed by President Biden on May 31. The group also welcomed the Security Council resolution backing that proposal.

On Tuesday, Hamas official Osama Hamdan reiterated its support for the Security Council resolution, telling al-Araby TV that the “resolution, despite its shortcomings, confirms a permanent cessation of fighting and the occupation’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.” The decision, he added, would not be implemented on the ground until Israel approves it.

The proposed deal would begin with a six-week cease-fire that includes the withdrawal of Israeli troops from heavily populated areas of Gaza; the freeing of all women, elderly people and children held hostage in return for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails; the return of displaced Palestinians to their homes throughout Gaza; and a surge in humanitarian aid to the starving enclave.

When asked whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would stick with the deal if Hamas agreed, Blinken said he was confident that the Israeli leader would. He also underscored his view that Hamas would be responsible for continuing the war if it does not agree to the latest proposal.

“Everyone has said yes, except for Hamas,” Blinken said. “If Hamas doesn’t say yes, then this is clearly on them.”

On Monday, Blinken had warned that Hamas was the only obstacle to cinching a deal — despite concerns that both Hamas and Netanyahu may thwart movement on the proposal first made public by Biden on May 31.

During his visit to Israel, Blinken also met with the chairman of the National Unity Party, Benny Gantz, who resigned Sunday from Netanyahu’s war cabinet, criticizing the prime minister for focusing on “empty promises” of “total victory” in lieu of trying to secure a deal that would bring hostages home. Gantz also lambasted Netanyahu for not working enough on a day-after plan for Gaza and not warding off the threat of Lebanon’s Hezbollah in the north.

In their meeting, Gantz stressed the importance of applying “maximum pressure on the negotiators to secure Hamas’s agreement” to achieve the release of hostages.

Blinken also met with opposition leader Yair Lapid, who also emphasized the need to reach a deal on the hostages. “None of us will sleep or be quiet and we will not stop until there is a deal,” Lapid tweeted after the meeting.

There are 120 hostages still held inside the Gaza Strip, at least a third of whom are believed to be dead, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

An Israeli airstrike killed high-ranking Hezbollah commander Talib Abdullah in southern Lebanon, the group wrote on Telegram early Wednesday. Three others were also killed in the strike, and others were injured, local media reported. The announcement marks the first time Hezbollah has said a commander was killed since the death of Wissam al-Tawil in January.

Israel’s operation to secure the release of four hostages, which killed at least 274 Palestinians, could amount to a war crime, the U.N. human rights office said Tuesday. Spokesman Jeremy Laurence said the “manner in which the raid was conducted in such a densely populated area seriously calls into question whether the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution … were respected by the Israeli forces.” He also said that Hamas’s holding of hostages in such densely populated areas had put the lives of both Palestinian civilians and the hostages themselves at risk. “All these actions, by both parties, may amount to war crimes,” Laurence said.

Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi demanded that Israel be made to stop using a “starvation policy against the Palestinians,” during a visit to Jordan. “The unprecedented humanitarian crisis that the Gaza Strip is experiencing is a direct responsibility of the Israeli occupation,” he said in remarks during a conference on the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

At least ​​37,164 people have been killed and 84,832 injured in Gaza since the war started, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants but says the majority of the dead are women and children. Israel estimates that about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, including more than 300 soldiers, and it says 298 soldiers have been killed since the launch of its military operations in Gaza.

George reported from Dubai, Dadouch from Beirut and Hassan from Washington. Hazem Balousha and Alon Rom contributed to this report.

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