Blinken ends latest Mideast mission after new Israeli snub of proposed Gaza cease-fire plan

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken left the Middle East on Thursday with public divisions between the United States and Israel at maybe their worst stage since Israel’s warfare towards Hamas in Gaza started in October.

Wrapping up a four-nation Mideast journey — his fifth to the area for the reason that battle erupted — Blinken was returning to Washington after getting a digital slap within the face from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who stated the warfare would proceed till Israel is totally victorious and appeared to reject outright a response from Hamas to a proposed cease-fire plan.

Relations between Israel and its major worldwide ally, the United States, have been tense for months, however Netanyahu’s public dismissal of a plan the U.S. says has benefit, not less than as a place to begin for additional negotiation, highlighted the divide.

Yet Blinken and different U.S. officers stated they remained optimistic that progress could possibly be made on their major targets of enhancing humanitarian circumstances for Palestinians civilians, securing the discharge of hostages held by Hamas, making ready for a post-conflict Gaza and stopping the warfare from spreading.

Officials stated Blinken’s optimism was based mostly on his first 4 post-Oct. 7 journeys to the Middle East. None of these visits resulted in fast seen successes, however they introduced restricted however important enhancements within the supply of humanitarian support and a weeklong cease-fire in November through which scores of hostages had been launched.

“Clearly there are things that Hamas sent back that are absolute non-starters,” Blinken stated of the response the militant group delivered Tuesday to a cease-fire and hostage launch proposal that was endorsed final month by Egypt, Qatar, the U.S. and Israel itself.

“But, at the same time, we see space to continue to pursue an agreement,” Blinken stated late Wednesday. “And these things are always negotiations. It’s not flipping a light switch. It’s not ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ There’s invariably back and forth.”

Shortly earlier than Blinken spoke, although, Netanyahu took direct goal on the Hamas response, calling it “delusional” and vowing that Israel would struggle on to attain “absolute victory” over the militant group, it doesn’t matter what.

Compounding Blinken’s dilemma, Netanyahu additionally appeared to dismiss considerations from the U.S. and others about increasing Israel’s navy operations in southern Gaza, significantly in Rafah, the world on the Egyptian border to which over one million Palestinians have fled.

“On all of my previous visits here and pretty much every day in between, we have pressed Israel in concrete ways to strengthen civilian protection, to get more assistance to those who need it. And over the past four months, Israel has taken important steps to do just that,” he stated. “And yet … the daily toll that its military operations continue to take on innocent civilians remains too high.”

Netanyahu additionally known as for the dismantlement of UNRWA, the UN company for Palestinian refugees, which is the principle distributor of worldwide help to Gaza, as a result of of its alleged hostility towards Israel and allegations {that a} dozen of its staff took half within the Oct. 7 Hamas assault that ignited the warfare.

The U.S. and different donor nations have suspended new help to UNRWA pending completion of a U.N. investigation into the allegations, however Blinken has nonetheless stated the company’s function is vital to getting desperately wanted humanitarian provides into Gaza.

Blinken appealed to Netanyahu and different Israelis nonetheless reeling from the Hamas assault to not enable vengeance to dictate their continued response.

“Israelis were dehumanized in the most horrific way on October 7,” he stated. “And the hostages have been dehumanized every day since. But that cannot be a license to dehumanize others.”

Blinken got here to Israel simply hours after the receipt of the Hamas counter-proposal to the framework cease-fire settlement put ahead late final month. That proposal features a three-phase plan to de-escalate the battle.

In Qatar on Tuesday, each Qatar’s prime minister and Blinken stated the proposal had promise as a place to begin for additional negotiation.

And Blinken talked up Saudi Arabia’s curiosity in normalizing relations with Israel, offered the Gaza warfare ends and the Palestinians are given a transparent, credible and time-bound pathway to an unbiased state.

“We remain determined as well to pursue a diplomatic path to a just and lasting peace, and security for all in the region, and notably for Israel,” Blinken stated in Tel Aviv.

However, Netanyahu is opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state and has stated Israel will keep open-ended safety management over Gaza.

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