HomeNewsMiddle East Crisis: Israel Awaits Hamas Response to Cease-Fire Plan as Blinken Returns to Mideast
Middle East Crisis: Israel Awaits Hamas Response to Cease-Fire Plan as Blinken Returns to Mideast
February 5, 2024
Israel was waiting on Monday for Hamas officials to respond to a proposal to pause the fighting in the Gaza Strip and release the remaining hostages there, as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken headed back to the region seeking to rally support for such a deal.
A broadcaster affiliated with Hamas, Al-Aqsa, reported on Sunday that Hamas was still holding consultations on the proposal, a week after it was formulated. Leaders of the group had previously signaled that substantial gaps remained between the two sides, even as representatives from the United States, Egypt and Qatar sought common ground.
Mr. Blinken, who was set to visit Saudi Arabia first, is hoping to advance talks on a series of interlocking deals to end the war in Gaza, and a deal for a hostage release will be central to that effort.
Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday that “the ball is in Hamas’s court.”
A deal that would release hostages, pause fighting and allow humanitarian aid to reach Gaza is of “paramount” importance, he added.
“We’re going to press for it relentlessly, as the president has done, including recently in calls with the leaders of Egypt and Qatar, the two countries that are our central brokers in this effort,” Mr. Sullivan said.
The Hamas-led attacks of Oct. 7, during which Israeli officials have said about 1,200 people were killed and more than 200 others taken hostage, ignited a war with Israel and touched off a wider crisis in the Middle East. Israel has traded fire with members of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Houthi militia that controls part of Yemen has fired on ships traveling to and from the Suez Canal.
Other Iran-backed militants have launched attacks against U.S. bases in the region, including one recently that killed three U.S. soldiers in Jordan.
The United States has responded to the Houthi attacks with repeated strikes, including on Sunday, and to the Jordan attack with a separate series of military strikes this weekend against Iranian forces and the militias they support at seven sites in Syria and Iraq. Top U.S. national security officials said on Sunday that further retaliation against Iran-backed militias was still planned.
But Mr. Sullivan said he believed those efforts were a separate issue from the talks intended to reach a cease-fire deal that has eluded both sides since a one-week pause in November.
“We believe that the steps that we took on Friday and the steps we took against the Houthis last night are not connected to the hostage negotiations,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And we believe that now, at this point, it’s up to Hamas to come forward and respond to what is a serious proposal.”