The US secretary of state met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Blinken presses Israel for Gaza truce

El secretario de Estado, Antony Blinken, y el primer ministró de Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu - PHOTO/X/@SecBlinken
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - PHOTO/X/@SecBlinken

US chief diplomat Antony Blinken on Wednesday pressed Israel to accept a truce in its war with Hamas, now in its fifth month. 

  1. Children in fear
  2. Diplomatic pressure

The secretary of state met in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the US diplomacy chief's fifth tour of the Middle East since the conflict began on October 7. 

Qatar, which brokered a temporary truce months ago, said Hamas responded to a new proposed deal to halt the fighting. 

"The response includes some comments, but overall it is positive," Qatari Prime Minister Mohamed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said after meeting Blinken in Doha the day before. 

Hamas confirmed that it had responded to proposals made a week ago in Paris by Qatar and other mediators. 

Blinken said he would discuss Hamas's response with Israel, noting that "much work remains to be done" and "that an agreement is possible and certainly essential". 

Israel's Mossad spy agency also received Hamas's response, according to Netanyahu's office. 

But the Israeli head of government, who has not commented on the Palestinian Islamist group's response, said on Tuesday: "We are on the road to total victory and they will not stop us". 

Pressure for a ceasefire has grown as Israeli forces advance towards Rafah, on Gaza's southern border with Egypt, where more than half the population of the tiny Palestinian territory has taken refuge. 

"The escalation of hostilities in Rafah in this situation could lead to large-scale loss of civilian life and we must do what we can to prevent that," said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian office, OCHA.

Children in fear

The war erupted on 7 October with a Hamas attack in southern Israel that killed more than 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count based on official Israeli data. 

Islamist militiamen also abducted some 250 people and some 132 people remain in Gaza, including 29 believed to have died. 

In response, Israel launched a military offensive that has killed 27,708 people in the Gaza Strip, mostly women and children, the territory's ruling Hamas health ministry said Wednesday. 

At least 123 people were killed in the last 24 hours, the same source said. 

Blinken's visit "is a nightmare" because on every trip, Israel "intensifies the aggression to show him that it rejects the truce," said Mohammad Abu Nada, at Najjar hospital in Rafah, where he went to collect the remains of a relative killed in a bombing. 

Israel reported that it would enter Rafah in search of Hamas fighters. 

The army "will reach places where we have not yet fought ... until the last stronghold of Hamas, which is Rafah," Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said this week. 

Safia Marouf, who took refuge here with her family after fleeing her home further north, says she fears what lies ahead. 

"The children are living in fear, and if we want to leave Rafah, we don't know where to go. What will be our fate and that of our children," she asks

El secretario de Estado de Estados Unidos, Antony Blinken, se reúne con el primer ministro y ministro de Asuntos Exteriores de Qatar, Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, en Diwan Annex, en Doha, el 6 de febrero de 2024, durante su gira por Oriente Medio - PHOTO/Mark Schiefelbein/POOL/AFP
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani at Diwan Annex in Doha on February 6, 2024, during his Middle East tour - PHOTO/Mark Schiefelbein/POOL/AFP

Diplomatic pressure

"The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is beyond catastrophic," said Tommaso della Longa, spokesman for the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. 

After Blinken's meeting in Doha, the Qatari ruler said he was "optimistic" about the possibility of a truce, although he declined to comment on Hamas's response. 

A Hamas source said last week that the proposal includes a six-week pause in fighting and a prisoner swap, as well as more aid for Gaza. 

But Netanyahu said the Islamist group made "demands that we will not accept". 

The Israeli ruler faces pressure to end the war and take back the hostages, with sharp divisions in his cabinet and popular outrage over the plight of the captives.

The US has strongly backed Israel, but also urged it to take action to reduce civilian casualties. 

In recent weeks violence has escalated in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, where Iranian-backed groups have launched attacks in support of Hamas, prompting responses from Israel, the US and its allies. 

Israeli strikes on the Syrian city of Homs left 10 people dead, including two Lebanese Hezbollah fighters and six civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH) said on Wednesday. 

Yemen's Houthi rebels have been attacking ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Yemen in solidarity with the Palestinians for weeks, actions that affect global maritime trade and have prompted responses from the United States and the United Kingdom