diplomatic efforts

Hamas appears to reject cease-fire as Blinken ends Middle East trip to push for hostage deal

Proposed hostage deal, a focus of Blinken’s visit, roils Netanyahu’s coalition; Israel opens new crossing into Gaza as Blinken pushes for more humanitarian aid


Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he boards his plane at an airport in Tel Aviv on May 1, 2024.

Secretary of State Tony Blinken’s seventh trip to the region since the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7, meant to bring about a temporary cease-fire in exchange for the release of hostages from Gaza, was punctuated by a signal of rejection by the Palestinian terrorist group.

As Blinken wrapped up his visit to Israel on Wednesday night, Lebanon-based Hamas official Osama Hamdan told Hezbollah TV channel Al Manar that the terror group’s “position on the current negotiating paper is negative.” However, Hamas said they will continue negotiating.

But Blinken’s time in Israel began with a declaration that he is “determined to get a cease-fire that brings the hostages home and to get it now,” as he said in his meeting with President Isaac Herzog, the first of a series of meetings he held with Israeli officials throughout the day.

In that meeting and others, Blinken emphasized that “the only reason that [deal] wouldn’t be achieved is because of Hamas.” 

“There is a proposal on the table, and as we’ve said – no delays, no excuses. The time is now, and the time is long past due to bring the hostages home to their families,” he said.

A day earlier, President Joe Biden posted on X that “Hamas…is now the only obstacle to an immediate ceasefire and relief for civilians in Gaza.”

Still, the hostage deal is the subject of heated debate within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition, such that whether an agreement is reached or not, it could destabilize his government. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said he might resign from the coalition if Israel enters “a bad deal that will endanger the security of Israel’s citizens,” saying that “this is the legitimate opinion of millions of Israelis who care about the future of the state no less than you do.”  National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir called the hostage deal “reckless.” War cabinet observer Minister Gadi Eisenkot, however, accused the ministers of “blackmailing” the government and said he “will only be a partner in a government that makes decisions based on the national interests of the State of Israel and not political considerations.”

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid told Blinken before taking off for a visit to the UAE on Wednesday that he would join the coalition if that is what it would take to get a hostage deal passed.

“Netanyahu has no political excuse not to go to a deal to bring back the hostages,” Lapid said. “He has a majority in the nation, he has a majority in the Knesset and if he needs it, I will ensure he has a majority in the cabinet. We must bring them home. Every hour is critical.”

The deal on the table as of Thursday morning was for the release of 33 hostages who are considered humanitarian cases — female civilians and soldiers, elderly or severely injured or ill — in exchange for a six-week cease-fire and the release of 20 Palestinians from prison for each Israeli hostage. Israel agreed to the latest version after a previous draft deal would have had Hamas release 40 hostages. Hamas, however, has persistently said it will only agree to a deal requiring an end to the war.

Netanyahu made clear that Israel plans to enter Rafah, a message he touted repeatedly the day before Blinken’s arrival. 

“The idea that we will end the war before reaching all of its aims is not under consideration,” Netanyahu told the Tikvah Forum, a group of hostages’ relatives opposed to releasing terrorists in exchange for their loved ones. “We will enter Rafah and destroy the Hamas battalions there, with or without a deal, to attain total victory.” 

Netanyahu reportedly told Blinken in their meeting that Israel wants to reach a deal and then complete its mission to eliminate Hamas with an operation in Rafah.

Blinken also held a meeting with the relatives of Keith Siegel, an Israeli-American held hostage in Gaza, including his wife, Aviva, who was held hostage for 51 days and released in November. Blinken also spoke with other hostages’ families demonstrating outside his hotel in Tel Aviv.

“Bringing the hostages home is at the heart of everything we’re trying to do. We will not rest until every hostage — woman, man, young, old, civilian, soldier — is back with their families, where they belong,” Blinken wrote on X.

In his first visit to an area targeted by Hamas on Oct. 7, Blinken made a brief visit to Kibbutz Nir Oz. Nearly a quarter of the kibbutz’s residents were killed or taken hostage during Hamas’ terror attack.

The secretary of state also spent much of his time in Israel pushing for more humanitarian aid to Gaza. He toured the Gaza border area with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, including Kerem Shalom, one of the crossings through which aid is delivered to Gaza, where they observed an inspection.

Tzav 9, an organization that opposes sending aid into Gaza as long as Hamas holds Israeli hostages, attempted to block trucks into Kerem Shalom the morning of Blinken’s visit.

Israel opened another crossing, Erez, into northern Gaza, on Wednesday. The Erez crossing, which Hamas terrorists destroyed on Oct. 7, is the entry point into Gaza closest to the Ashdod port, through which the international community sends much of the humanitarian aid.

“We are taking significant measures in order to increase the volume of humanitarian aid into Gaza,” Gallant said. “We are fighting Hamas, a brutal terrorist organization. We are not fighting the civilians in Gaza and we will facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.”  

A day earlier in Jordan, Blinken said: “We’ve seen clear and demonstrable progress in getting more assistance into Gaza, but more needs to be done.” After his visit to Kerem Shalom, Blinken indicated that he still did not view the efforts to allow in aid as sufficient, posting on X that “progress must continue to address humanitarian needs.” The statements from all of Blinken’s meetings with Israeli officials emphasized increasing aid to Gazan civilians.

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