US's Blinken says Hamas' response to cease-fire proposal 'creates space' for agreement
'There are clear non-starters in Hamas' response,' Blinken says, but it still 'creates space for an agreement to be reached'
ADDS MORE REMARKS
By Iclal Turan
WASHINGTON (AA) - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the Palestinian group Hamas's response to a proposal for a cease-fire and hostage deal had some "clear non-starters" but creates "space for an agreement to be reached."
"While there are clear non-starters in Hamas's response, we do think it creates space for an agreement to be reached. And we will work at that relentlessly until we get there," Blinken told reporters during a press conference in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv.
His remarks came shortly after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Hamas's demands for a hostage and cease-fire deal "delusional" and vowed to continue Israel’s devastating offensive in the Gaza Strip until achieving a "crushing victory" against the Gaza-based Palestinian group.
Earlier on Tuesday, Hamas said it had delivered its response to Egypt and Qatar regarding a "framework agreement" for a proposed prisoner swap deal and cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.
Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani said Tuesday that Doha had received Hamas's response to the deal, adding it was "generally positive."
Hamas is believed to be holding around 136 hostages.
- Civilian death toll 'remains too high'
On a potential Israeli military operation in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, the top US diplomat said Israel has the obligation to “do everything possible” to ensure that civilians are protected and that they get the assistance they need.
Blinken added that he suggested to the Israelis “some ways” to ensure civilian protection.
“That's extremely important because it has such a dense population, including many people who've been displaced from other parts of Gaza,” he said.
Blinken said he told Israeli officials that the daily toll of innocent civilians “remains too high,” adding that he also highlighted “some key steps” that Israel should take to ensure that more aid reaches more people in Gaza.
Israel should open the Erez (Beit Hanoun) crossing to allow humanitarian assistance to flow into northern Gaza, he stressed.
“Israelis were dehumanized in the most horrific way on Oct. 7. The hostages have been demonized (by Hamas and other terror groups) every day since. But that cannot be a license to dehumanize others,” he said. “The overwhelming majority of people in Gaza had nothing to do with the attacks of Oct. 7.”
Blinken visited Tel Aviv to meet with Israeli officials as part of his fifth Middle East tour, including stops in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar and the West Bank.
The focus of his trip was to secure a hostage deal, including a humanitarian pause, prevent the spread of the conflict and hold discussions on a two-state solution.
Israel has launched a deadly offensive on Gaza following an Oct. 7 cross-border attack by Hamas, killing at least 27,585 Palestinians and injuring 66,978 others, while nearly 1,200 Israelis are believed to have been killed in the Hamas attack.
The Israeli offensive has left 85% of Gaza’s population internally displaced amid acute shortages of food, clean water and medicine, while 60% of the enclave’s infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed, according to the UN.
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