Top NewsIsrael-Hamas War: Blinken Briefs Israeli Leaders on Ceasefire and...

Israel-Hamas War: Blinken Briefs Israeli Leaders on Ceasefire and Hostage Negotiations

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TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met with Israeli leaders Wednesday after Hamas proposed a new ceasefire and a detailed plan to release hostages, but both sides have so far dug in on elusive goals. The war is entering its fifth month.

Hamas laid out a three-phase plan to emerge in 4 1/2 months, responding to a proposal drawn up by the United States, Israel, Qatar and Egypt. All hostages would be released and the war would end in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, including veteran fighters.

The proposal would leave Hamas in power in Gaza and allow it to rebuild its military capabilities, a scenario Israeli leaders have adamantly rejected. President Joe Biden said Hamas' demands were “a little excessive” but that negotiations would continue.

The deadliest round of fighting in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict killed 27,000 Palestinians. Leveled entire neighborhoodsThe majority of Gaza's population was forced from their homes A quarter of the population is starving.

An Israeli tank on the border with the Gaza Strip, as seen on February 6, 2024, in southern Israel. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Iranian-backed militant groups across the region have carried out attacks, mostly on US and Israeli targets, in solidarity with the Palestinians, taking retaliatory measures as the risk of a wider conflict rises.

Israel is in deep shock Hamas' October 7 attackIn which the militants broke through the country's security enclaves and attacked across southern Israel, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducting about 250, half of whom are being held captive in Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the war will continue until there is a “total victory” over Hamas and the return of all remaining hostages.

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Blinken, who is making his fifth visit to the region since the outbreak of war, is trying to advance ceasefire talks while pushing for a larger post-war settlement in which Saudi Arabia would “normalize relations with Israel in exchange for a clear, credible, time-bound path to the establishment of a Palestinian state.” He met with Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials on Wednesday.

But the increasingly unpopular Netanyahu opposes Palestinian statehood, and his hawkish ruling coalition could collapse if he is seen as making too many concessions.

Distress deepens in devastated Gaza

There is little talk of grand diplomatic deals in Gaza, where Palestinians yearn for an end to the fighting that has upended every aspect of their lives.

“We pray to God that this stops,” said Ghazi Abu Issa, who fled his home and sought refuge in the central city of Deir al-Bala. “No water, electricity, food or bathroom.” Tent dwellers are drenched by winter rains and floods. “We are humiliated,” he said.

New mothers struggle to get baby formula and diapers, all of which can only be found at vastly inflated prices. Some children under the age of 6 months have health problems with solid food.

The Palestinian death toll in the four-month war has reached 27,707 Ministry of Health in Hamas-run territory. It said on Wednesday that 123 bodies were brought to hospitals in the last 24 hours alone. It said at least 11,000 wounded people should be evacuated from Gaza urgently.

The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its statistics, but says most of the dead are women and children.

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Israel has ordered the evacuation of Palestinians, who make up two-thirds of the tiny coastal enclave. Most of the displaced have crowded into the southern city of Rafah, near the border with Egypt, where many are living in squalid tent camps and overflowing UN shelters. They also live in run shelters.

Hamas continues to mount fierce resistance across the region Its police force is back on the streets Where Israeli troops retreated. Hamas still holds 130 hostages, but about 30 of them are believed to be dead, most killed on October 7.

Hamas voices demands for hostage deal

Hamas' response to the ceasefire proposal was published in Lebanon's Al-Akbar newspaper, which is close to the powerful Hezbollah militant group. Its authenticity was confirmed by a Hamas official and two Egyptian officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media about key negotiations.

During the first 45-day phase, Hamas will release all remaining women and children and elderly and sick men in exchange for Palestinian women, children, elderly and sick prisoners. Israel will release 1,500 prisoners, including 500 named by Hamas – veteran militants serving life sentences.

Israel will pull out of populated areas, halt air operations, allow more aid and allow Palestinians to return to their homes, including in devastated northern Gaza.

The second phase, to be negotiated during the first phase, would include the release of all remaining hostages, mostly soldiers, in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, and would complete Israel's withdrawal from Gaza. In the third phase, both sides would exchange hostages and the remains of prisoners.

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The Israelites are distressed at the fate of the captives

Israelis are paying serious attention to the plight of the hostages, as family members and the wider public demand a deal with Hamas, fearing that time is running out. Israeli forces have rescued only one hostage, while Hamas says many have been killed in Israeli airstrikes and failed rescue efforts.

More than 100 hostages, mostly women and children, were released during a week-long ceasefire in November in exchange for the release of 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Thousands of Israelis have taken part in weekly protests demanding the release of hostages and new elections. But Netanyahu is being watched Far-right coalition parties They threatened to topple the government if they conceded too much in the talks.

That could spell the end of Netanyahu's long political career and lead to prosecution Allegations of longstanding corruption.

But the longer the war drags on, the more it spills over into other countries, drawing the United States and its allies deeper into a volatile region.

Israel and Hezbollah trade fire daily. Iran-backed groups in Syria and Iraq have carried out dozens of attacks against bases where US troops are stationed and killed three US soldiers last week. A wave of retaliatory airstrikes. The US and Britain have launched strikes against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Shipping on the Red Seawill continue.

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Shurafa reported from Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip and Maqdi from Cairo. Associated Press writer Abby Sewell in Beirut contributed to this report.

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Follow AP's coverage of the Israel-Hamas war https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

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