Doha: US State Secretary Antony Blinken is set to begin meetings with key government officials in Israel on Wednesday, to press for a “humanitarian pause” as international and domestic US pressure to end the conflict in Gaza continues to mount, as reported by CNN.
The meeting is followed by the recent update that the Hamas terror group has put forward a response to a proposal meant to secure the freedom of the remaining hostages held by the terrorist group and a sustained cessation of the fighting in Gaza.
Blinken highlighted that he will hold discussions regarding the counterproposal with Israeli officials, according to CNN.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we continue to believe that an agreement is possible and, indeed, essential. And we will continue to work relentlessly to achieve it,” Blinken said at a press conference in Doha on Tuesday.
The Israel ground offensive, which was launched after the Hamas attack, has taken an immense humanitarian toll on the strip, with tens of thousands dead and the population of Gaza on the brink of famine.
The offensive further sparked a barrage of regional attacks by Iranian-backed proxy groups, including by Houthi against vessels in the Red Sea as well as a deluge of strikes by militias against US troops in Iraq and Syria, one of which took the lives of three US service members.
However, the Biden administration is currently facing outrage from some groups at home over its handling of the situation in Gaza which could cause political damage to US President Joe Biden in an election year, as reported by CNN.
Moreover, US State Secretary Blinken is expected to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and key officials in the Israeli war cabinet. In those meetings, Blinken is expected to focus on pushing Israel toward a “humanitarian pause,” as the Biden administration calls it, as such a suspension of the fighting is central to the objectives the US is pushing for both the short and longer-term.
“We saw the results of the last pause – the initial pause: 105 hostages out, a significant increase in humanitarian assistance getting in, the repair of critical infrastructure in Gaza, and more broadly, reduced regional tensions at the same time,” Blinken said.
Meanwhile, a senior State Department official also stated that “whenever we go to Israel we have a long list in our ongoing conversation with Israel on humanitarian access and civilian casualties.” However, Blinken stressed that the conversations are not expected to be easy.
Netanyahu on Monday again rejected the idea of a ceasefire, saying that the offensive would continue until Hamas’ leadership was killed, according to CNN. Throughout the course of the conflict, it has taken intense, sustained pressure from the US to get Israeli officials to shift their positions on things like allowing aid into Gaza.
“We are in conversation with the Israelis every day on a number of different humanitarian pieces and make progress on them, but to get real breakthroughs on some of the big things, one of two things has to happen: the Secretary has to show up or the President has to get on the phone with the prime minister. So whenever we come to Israel, we come with a list of things that we’re trying to push,” a senior State Department official said earlier this week.
Highlighting on matters like the civilian death toll, officials stressed that there is still work to be done and that the number of people killed in the offensive is still too high. Moreover, there are concerns from humanitarian organizations that the civilian toll will only grow as Israel moves its operations into Rafah, where thousands have fled, CNN reported.