Hamas leader’s decision on cease-fire is what counts, says Blinken

TEL AVIV — Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed Tuesday the positive response to a cease-fire proposal from Hamas’s political leadership but said what “counts” is the decision by the Hamas leader in Gaza, Yehiya Sinwar.

Blinken is touring the Middle East to push a cease-fire deal and an exchange of hostages in the Gaza Strip after months of steady violence and high death tolls. His efforts received a boost from a U.S.-sponsored U.N. Security Council resolution backing the plan on Monday. Hamas welcomed the resolution.

“It is a hopeful sign,” Blinken said, but it doesn’t resolve the issue. That requires “the word coming from Gaza and the Hamas leadership in Gaza. That’s what counts, and that’s what we don’t have yet.”

Hamas on Monday said it was ready to cooperate with mediators on implementing the principles of the cease-fire proposal endorsed by President Biden on May 31 and the group welcomed the Security Council resolution backing that proposal.

“Hamas emphasizes its readiness to cooperate with the mediators to engage in indirect negotiations on implementing these principles,” its statement said.


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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 if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would stick with the deal if Hamas agreed, Blinken said he was confident the Israeli leader would.

He underscored his view that Hamas would be responsible for all the bloodshed in Gaza if it does not agree to the latest proposal. “If Hamas doesn’t say yes, then this is clearly on them,” said Blinken.

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 President Biden on May 31.

During his visit to Israel, Blinken also met with the chairman of the National Unity Party, Benny Gantz, who had 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’ agreement” to secure 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,” he 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.

At least ​​37,124 people have been killed and 84,712 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.

Dadouch reported from Beirut. Alon Rom in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.

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