Blinken considers some of Hamas' changes to the Gaza ceasefire proposal to be unworkable

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said Wednesday he will continue to urgently push for a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, despite a counterproposal from Hamas that he said includes unacceptable demands.

After more than eight months of war in Gaza, the proposed ceasefire agreement follows an outline made public last month by President Biden and has the approval of the United Nations Security Council. But Israel and Hamas still seem far from reaching an agreement.

“In the days ahead, we will push with urgency,” Blinken said, “to try to get this deal done.”

Speaking at a news conference in Doha, Qatar, alongside Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who serves as both prime minister and minister of foreign affairs of Qatar, Blinken said “there was a deal on the table that was basically identical” to the one already agreed. Hamas made the proposal on May 6.

But Hamas' response, he said, which was received by Egyptian and Qatari mediators and forwarded to American officials on Tuesday, calls for it to “go beyond the positions it had previously taken and accepted.”

“Some changes are achievable, some are not,” Blinken said. He declined to reveal details about Hamas's counterproposal, but suggested that the group's changing demands cast doubt on the sincerity of its negotiators. At a certain point, he said, “you have to ask yourself whether they are proceeding in good faith or not.”

Two senior members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps, who were briefed on the details of Hamas' response, said it included demands that Israel withdraw from two critical corridors – one along the Egyptian border and one running through the center of the Strip. of Gaza – within the territory. first week of the initial truce.

Hamas also demands that Israeli troops withdraw completely from Gaza at the end of the first phase of the deal, and that there be a complete and “sustainable” cessation of fighting before any exchange of Palestinian prisoners for hostages, Guard members said revolutionary. on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations.

They added that Hamas demands that Russia, China and Turkey act as guarantors and be signatories to a ceasefire agreement.

While Biden has claimed that the plan was drawn up by Israel, the Israeli government has yet to publicly accept it, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that he will not stop the war until he achieves his oft-stated goal of destroying the government and the Hamas government. military capabilities.

The proposed deal calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and then, after the release of some Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners, talks that could lead to a much longer or even permanent ceasefire, Israeli withdrawal and the reconstruction of Gaza .

Qatar and Egypt have acted as intermediaries between Israel and Hamas, which do not communicate directly with each other.

Blinken said the United States would unveil “in the coming weeks” proposals it has developed with regional partners to address governance, security and reconstruction in Gaza. She spoke on the final leg of a three-day tour of the Middle East, her eighth trip to the region since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.

As Blinken left the region, tensions rose along Israel's northern border. Hezbollah, the powerful Iranian-backed Lebanese militia and political movement, fired 215 rockets into northern Israel on Wednesday in retaliation for an Israeli attack Tuesday evening that killed a top Hezbollah commander.

The commander, Taleb Abdallah, also known as Abu Taleb, was among the highest-ranking Hezbollah members to have been killed since Hezbollah staged cross-border attacks in support of Hamas after the October 7 attacks that sparked the war in Gaza.

Hezbollah has claimed attacks on a number of military bases, including Mount Meron, an area that hosts a military radar station about five miles south of the border. Hezbollah also claimed to have struck an arms factory belonging to Plasan, a company that makes armored vehicles used by the Israeli army.

There were no immediate reports of casualties from Hezbollah rocket fire, the Israeli military said.

Hezbollah rocket attacks have already forced thousands of Israelis to flee border areas, and Israeli officials have threatened to take decisive military action in response to any major attack. The militia, for its part, has vowed to continue fighting, raising fresh concerns that months of low-level conflict could spill over into a broader war on Israel's northern border.

Speaking at Abdallah's funeral in Beirut's southern suburbs, Hashem Safieddine, head of Hezbollah's executive council, vowed that the group would redouble its attacks on Israel.

“If the enemy's message is to retreat from our position of support for the oppressed of Gaza, then he must know that our response is final,” Safieddine said. “We will increase the intensity, quantity and quality of our operations.”

Reacting to the escalation on the Israeli-Lebanese border, Blinken said he believed neither side would welcome a broader war. He stated that “it is safe to say that in reality no one is working to start a war or provoke an escalation” and that “there is a strong preference for a diplomatic solution”.

The best way to calm tensions along Lebanon's border with Israel, he said, would be a ceasefire in Gaza, which he said would “take a huge amount of pressure off the system” and remove Hezbollah's stated justification for attacking Israel .

Reporting contribution was provided by Farnaz Fassihi, Aaron Boxerman, Adam Rasgon AND Abu Bakr Bashir.

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