Blinken completed the latest Middle East mission after the new Israeli cut off the proposed Gaza ceasefire plan

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken left the Middle East on Thursday, with the public rift between the U.S. and Israel possibly at its worst since. Israel's War Against Hamas October began in Gaza.

Wrapping up a four-nation Middle East trip — his fifth trip to the region since the conflict broke out — Blinken was returning to Washington after a virtual slap in the face. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuHe seemed to completely reject Hamas's response, saying that the war would continue until Israel was completely victorious. Proposed armistice plan.

Relations between Israel and its key international ally, the United States, have been strained for months, but Netanyahu's public rejection of a plan that the United States says is at least a starting point for further talks has highlighted the rift.

Yet Blinken and other U.S. officials said they were optimistic they could make progress on their key goals Improving humanitarian conditions for Palestinian citizensFreeing hostages held by Hamas, preparing for a post-conflict Gaza, and de-escalating the war.

Blinken's confidence was based on his first four since October, officials said. 7 trips to Middle East countries. None of those visits resulted in immediately visible successes, but they did bring limited but significant improvements in the delivery of humanitarian aid and a week-long cease-fire in November in which scores of hostages were freed.

“What Hamas sent back is a complete non-starter,” Blinken said of the militant group's response Tuesday to a ceasefire and hostage release proposal approved last month by Egypt, Qatar, the United States and Israel. himself.

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“But, at the same time, we see room to pursue a deal,” Blinken said late Wednesday. “These things are always negotiations. It's not flipping a light switch. It's not 'yes' or 'no.' It's constant back and forth.”

Shortly before Blinken spoke, Netanyahu took direct aim at the Hamas response, calling it an “illusion” and vowing that Israel would fight to achieve “total victory” over the militant group.

Compounding Blingen's predicament, Netanyahu dismissed concerns from the US and others about expanding Israel's military operations in southern Gaza, particularly in Rafah, on the Egyptian border, where more than a million Palestinians have fled.

“In all my previous visits, and every day in between, we have pressed Israel in concrete ways to strengthen civilian protections and get more aid to those in need. In the last four months, Israel has taken important steps to do just that,” he said. “Yet … the daily toll that its military operations continue to take on innocent civilians is far too high.”

Netanyahu also called for weed removal UNRWA, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near EastIt plays a key role in providing international aid to Gaza because of its hostility to Israel and allegations that a dozen of its employees took part in the October 7 Hamas attack that sparked the war.

The United States and other donor countries have halted new aid to UNRWA, but Blinken said the agency's role is critical to getting much-needed humanitarian supplies into Gaza.

Blinken appealed to Netanyahu and other Israelis still reeling from the Hamas onslaught not to let retaliation dictate their continued response.

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“On October 7 Israelis were dehumanized in the most brutal way,” he said. And hostages are dehumanized every day. But that cannot be a license to dehumanize others.

Blinken arrived in Israel hours after receiving a Hamas counter-proposal to the framework of a ceasefire deal presented late last month. The proposal includes a three-phase plan to reduce conflict.

Tuesday in QatarBoth Qatar's prime minister and Blinken said the plan promised a starting point for negotiations.

Blinken spoke of Saudi Arabia's interest in normalizing relations with Israel, as long as the Gaza war ends and the Palestinians are offered a clear, credible and time-bound path to an independent state.

“We are committed to pursuing a diplomatic path to a just and lasting peace, and security for all in the region and especially for Israel,” Blinken said in Tel Aviv.

however, Netanyahu objected It has called for the creation of a Palestinian state and Israel will maintain open security control over Gaza.

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