Blinken urges W Asian nations to press Hamas for ceasefire

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WASHINGTON: The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday, as he began a trip to the Middle East, that he was urging leaders in the region to press Hamas to say yes to a ceasefire proposal to halt fighting in Gaza.

Blinken said Hamas was the only outlier in not accepting the proposal for a three-phase deal involving the release of hostages and talks toward an end to fighting, to which he said Israel had agreed.

“My message to governments throughout the region, to people throughout the region, is if you want a ceasefire, press Hamas to say yes,” Blinken told reporters before departing Egypt to visit Israel.A senior Hamas official told Reuters that Blinken’s Gaza ceasefire comments were “biased to Israel”.

Blinken met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo before traveling on to Israel, where he will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Blinken is on his eighth visit to the region since Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct 7, triggering the bloodiest episode in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The top US diplomat said he would also discuss plans for governance and reconstruction in post-conflict Gaza during his trip, on which he will also meet regional leaders in Jordan and Qatar.

The Hamas attack killed 1,200 people and took some 250 others hostage, according to Israeli tallies. In response, Israel launched an assault on the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory said in its Sunday update, and reduced the enclave to a wasteland.

The visit comes after US President Joe Biden on May 31 outlined a three-phase ceasefire proposal from Israel that envisions a permanent end to hostilities, the release of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners, and the reconstruction of Gaza.