Blinken calls for Hamas to accept ‘extraordinarily generous’ cease-fire deal

Hamas should accept an “extraordinarily generous” proposal to release Israeli hostages it is holding in the Gaza Strip in exchange for a temporary cease-fire, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday, speaking at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Hamas is expected to respond to the U.S.-led proposal Monday in discussions with Egyptian and Qatari officials in Cairo.

“Hamas has before it a proposal that is extraordinarily, extraordinarily generous on the part of Israel,” Blinken said during a panel discussion at the WEF.

“And in this moment, the only thing standing between the people of Gaza and a cease-fire is Hamas. They have to decide, and they have to decide quickly,” he continued. “I’m hopeful that they will make the right decision.”

The administration has not been public with the details of the latest proposal, although a senior administration official told reporters on a call Friday that baked into the proposal is to allow for the “structured” and “phased” return of Palestinians to the north of Gaza.

Other reported details of the possible deal include Hamas releasing 33 hostages, specifically those considered most vulnerable, women, the elderly, sick or injured; and that the length of a cease-fire would be contingent on the number of hostages released. Israel is also reportedly expected to release Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. Other reports indicate that Israel may withdraw forces from certain areas.

The Biden administration has criticized Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, for opposing earlier proposals to reach a deal that would require Hamas to release hostages in exchange for a halt in fighting, the scale-up of humanitarian support and allowing displaced Palestinians sheltering in Gaza’s south to return to the north of the territory.

U.S. officials have said Hamas’s political officials engaging in talks with Egypt and Qatar had made “significant progress,” but that Sinwar, who is in hiding in Gaza, rejects the proposals when he receives them.

“The answer that comes from Sinwar personally, the answer is no,” a senior administration official said last week.

Last week, the U.S. led a joint statement with the leaders of 17 other countries calling on Hamas to accept the latest cease-fire and hostage release proposal.

There are still about 133 hostages who were kidnapped from Israel on Oct. 7 that have not been released by Hamas. But its unclear how may Hamas actually holds after its shocking invasion on the south of the country, killing people in their communities, at a music festival, and taking more than 250 people hostage.

Hamas has told negotiators earlier this month it does not have 40 Israeli hostages that it can release as part of a temporary cease-fire deal, raising questions about how many hostages are alive and who is holding them.

More than 100 were released as part of a week-long cease-fire deal at the end of November, with released hostages describing being held in tunnels and at the homes of civilians. Israel said that Hamas has held hostages in Gazan hospitals and in cells underground. Other testimonies have said that Israeli female captives suffered sexual assault from their captors, while men have been beaten up and tortured.

The U.S. wants to achieve a cease-fire deal, a first phase expected to last for at least a couple of weeks, to push off a likely Israeli offensive on Gaza’s southern city of Rafah, where more than 1 million displaced Palestinians are sheltering.

The humanitarian situation in Gaza is described as catastrophic, with tens of thousands killed and injured, starvation leading into famine, spread of disease and little to no adequate shelter.

Blinken will travel to Israel this week following his meetings in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. He is expected to talk with Israeli officials about the hostage deal, and U.S. concerns over Israel’s plans to launch an offensive in Rafah, believed to be Hamas’s last stronghold in the strip.

Biden officials have said the administration will not support an Israeli offensive on Rafah without a credible plan for the protection of civilians.

“We’ve said clearly and for some time now, on Rafah, that in the absence of a plan to ensure that civilians will not be harmed, we can’t support a major military operation,” Blinken repeated Monday.

“We have not yet seen a plan that gives us confidence that civilians can be effectively protected.”

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