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Blinken returns to Mideast in push for truce

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. AFP
  • The US also called for a UN Security Council vote on a truce
  • Overall Israel's military offensive has killed at least 37,084 people in Gaza

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was heading back to the Middle East on Monday to push a ceasefire plan, but Israeli politics and silence from Hamas raised further questions on whether he can succeed.

The top US diplomat is paying his eighth visit to the region since the war broke out in Gaza. He is set to visit Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Qatar.

Blinken is scheduled to hold closed-door talks first in Cairo with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a key US partner in peace efforts, and later in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Additionally, the United States stepped up pressure Monday for a Gaza ceasefire with a call for a UN Security Council vote on a truce.

“The only thing standing in the way of achieving this ceasefire is Hamas. It is time for them to accept the deal,” Blinken said Saturday.

Hamas has insisted on a permanent truce and full Israeli withdrawal from all parts of Gaza — demands that Israel has firmly rejected.

Overall Israel’s military offensive has killed at least 37,084 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.

Under the plan laid out by Biden, Israel would withdraw from Gaza population centers and Hamas would free hostages. The ceasefire would last an initial six weeks, and would be extended as negotiators seek a permanent end to hostilities.

Blinken planned the visit to push forward a proposal announced on May 31 by President Joe Biden, who has stepped up efforts to end a war that has taken a mounting toll on civilians and alienated parts of his base ahead of the November elections.

And while Biden has described his plan as coming from Israel, the resignation on Sunday of a key centrist, Benny Gantz, from Netanyahu’s war cabinet throws a new wild card on US diplomatic efforts.

Gantz, a former general who leads in polls to replace Netanyahu if new elections are called, protested that the prime minister had not made the hard decisions to enable “real victory”, including by thinking out a post-war plan for Gaza.

Gantz has cast himself as a smoother partner for the United States than Netanyahu, a veteran of political squabbles with Israel’s vital ally. Biden in recent weeks suspended a shipment of weapons to Israel and accused Netanyahu of prolonging the war to stay in power, an assertion on which he backtracked.

Gantz defied Netanyahu by visiting Washington on his own in March and has regularly met in Israel with Blinken, although a meeting on the latest trip was not immediately announced.