Qatari PM Tells Secretary Blinken Hamas Had ‘Generally Positive’ Response to Gaza Cease-Fire Proposal

DOHA, Qatar—Qatar’s prime minister said Tuesday that Hamas’ reaction to the latest plan for a cease-fire in Gaza and the release of hostages was “generally positive” as he met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was making his latest visit to the Middle East.

Qatar, which has long mediated with Hamas, has been working with the United States and Egypt to broker a cease-fire that would involve an extended halt in fighting and the release of the over 100 hostages still held by Hamas after its Oct. 7 cross-border raid that ignited the war nearly four months ago.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani did not provide any details on Hamas’s response but said the group had “comments.” Mr. Blinken confirmed that officials had received Hamas’s response and said he would brief Israel’s leaders when he visits the country on Wednesday.

Hamas said in a statement that it responded in a “positive spirit” to the latest proposal from the U.S. and Mideast mediators. But the militant group said it still seeks “a comprehensive and complete” cease-fire to end “the aggression against our people.” Israel has ruled out the kind of permanent cease-fire sought by the militant group.

Mr. Blinken met with Egyptian officials earlier in the day and was in Saudi Arabia on Monday.

His visit also comes amid growing concerns in Egypt about Israel’s stated intentions to expand the combat in Gaza to areas on the Egyptian border that are crammed with displaced Palestinians.

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Israel’s defense minister has said his country’s offensive will eventually reach the town of Rafah, on the Egyptian border, where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have sought refuge and are now living in increasingly miserable conditions.

U.N. humanitarian monitors said Tuesday that Israeli evacuation orders now cover two-thirds of Gaza’s territory, driving thousands more people every day toward the border areas.

Egypt has warned that an Israeli deployment along the border would threaten the peace treaty the two countries signed over four decades ago. Egypt fears an expansion of combat to the Rafah area could push terrified Palestinian civilians across the border, a scenario Egypt has said it is determined to prevent.

Mr. Blinken, who met with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo, has said repeatedly that Palestinians must not be forced out of Gaza.

Blinken Pushing for Progress

During this trip, Mr. Blinken is seeking progress on a cease-fire deal, on potential normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and on preventing an escalation of regional fighting.

On all three fronts, Mr. Blinken faces major challenges. Hamas and Israel are publicly at odds over key elements of a potential truce. Israel has dismissed the United States’ calls for a path to a Palestinian state, and Iran’s militant allies in the region have shown little sign of being deterred by U.S. strikes.

Egypt and Qatar have been trying to mediate an agreement between Israel and Hamas that would lead to the release of more hostages in return for a several-week pause in Israeli military operations. The outlines of such a deal were worked out by intelligence chiefs from the United States, Egypt, Qatar, and Israel late last month and have been presented to Hamas, which has not yet formally responded.

As on his previous four trips to the Mideast since the Gaza war began, Mr. Blinken’s other main goal is to prevent the conflict from spreading, a task made more difficult by stepped-up attacks by Iran-backed militias in the region and increasingly severe U.S. military responses in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and the Red Sea that have intensified since last week.

Mr. Blinken met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Monday evening, shortly after arriving in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Saudi officials have said the kingdom is still interested in normalizing relations with Israel in a potentially historic deal, but only if there is a credible plan to create a Palestinian state.

Fighting Across Gaza

Any such grand bargain appears a long way off as the war still rages in Gaza.

Palestinians look at a residential house destroyed in an Israeli strike in Rafah, Gaza Strip, on Feb. 5, 2024. (Hatem Ali/AP Photo)
Palestinians look at a residential house destroyed in an Israeli strike in Rafah, Gaza Strip, on Feb. 5, 2024. (Hatem Ali/AP Photo)

The Palestinian death toll from nearly four months of war has reached 27,585, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run territory, with 107 bodies brought to hospitals over the past day. The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its count but says most of the dead have been women and children.

The war has leveled vast swaths of the tiny enclave and pushed a quarter of residents to starvation.

Israel has vowed to continue the war until it crushes Hamas’s military and governing abilities and wins the return of the 100-plus hostages still held by the militant group.

Hamas and other terrorists killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in the Oct. 7 attack that ignited the war and abducted around 250. More than 100 captives, mostly women and children, were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November in exchange for the release of 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

The Israeli military said Tuesday it was battling terrorists in areas across the Gaza Strip, including the southern city of Khan Younis, where it said troops killed dozens of terrorists over the past day.

Humanitarian Crisis Persists

U.N. humanitarian monitors said Tuesday that Israel’s evacuation orders in the Gaza Strip now cover two-thirds of the territory, or 246 square kilometers (95 square miles). The affected area was home to 1.78 million Palestinians, or 77 percent of Gaza’s population, before the war.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, said in its daily report that the newly displaced have only about 1.5 to 2 liters (50 to 67 ounces) of water per day to drink, cook, and wash. It also reported a significant increase in chronic diarrhea among children.

Parents of babies face a particularly difficult challenge because of the high cost or lack of diapers, baby formula, and milk.

Original News Source Link – Epoch Times

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