Blinken Returns to the Middle East to Advance Hostage Negotiations

Blinken Returns to the Middle East to Advance Hostage Negotiations

The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, embarked on another journey to the Middle East on Sunday to advance a proposal aimed at resolving the ongoing conflict by securing the release of hostages. This marks Blinken’s fifth visit to the region since the October 7 Hamas attack within Israel. His latest trip follows recent US strikes on Iranian-affiliated targets in Iraq and Syria, escalating tensions that President Joe Biden had initially hoped to mitigate.

Blinken’s visit coincides with a growing sense of frustration from the Biden administration toward Israel. While the US imposed sanctions on extremist settlers last Thursday, it has refrained from endorsing international calls for Israel to cease its military operations.

The proposed plan, formulated during discussions in Paris involving the CIA director and officials from Israel, Qatar, and Egypt, suggests a six-week ceasefire to facilitate the release of hostages taken by Hamas on October 7 in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

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During his trip, Blinken will engage with key stakeholders in Israel, Egypt, and Qatar, the latter serving as a crucial intermediary with Hamas due to its control over the Gaza Strip and its diplomatic presence in Doha. Following a meeting with Qatar’s prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, in Washington on Monday, Blinken expressed optimism about the prospects of the proposal, calling it a “good, strong” initiative with real potential for success.

Qatar has expressed optimism regarding the negotiations, although Hamas has stated that no agreement has been reached. Additionally, there is internal division within Israel, with hawks opposing perceived concessions to Hamas. In Tel Aviv, hundreds gathered for a rally demanding swift action to free the hostages and calling for early elections, criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government for its perceived failure to secure their release.

Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, acknowledged the internal debate within Israel but emphasized that the “ball is in Hamas’s court” regarding the proposed deal. Speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Sullivan stated that Secretary Blinken would urge Israel to increase the provision of essential supplies, such as food, water, medicine, and shelter, to Gaza, which has been severely impacted by months of bombardment.

Concerns about a potential famine in Gaza due to shortages of food and water have been raised by nations and aid organizations. Secretary Blinken is expected to begin his trip in Saudi Arabia, where discussions about establishing relations with Israel had been underway before the October 7 attack. Despite criticisms of Israel’s offensive in Gaza, Secretary Blinken has noted a continued interest from Saudi Arabia in pursuing normalization.

The offensive in Gaza, which began after Hamas fighters infiltrated Israel and carried out a deadly attack, has resulted in significant casualties, with thousands of deaths, mostly among women and children. The campaign also led to the seizure of hostages, with some being released during a temporary truce. However, a significant number of hostages remain in captivity, including the bodies of several deceased hostages.

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