Blinken headed for Middle East to push Gaza ceasefire plan

Israel continues to batter Gaza as the US presses for a UNSC vote to help push the ceasefire plan.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press conference, April 26
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is on his eighth trip to the region since the start of the war [Tatan Syuflana/AP]

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to arrive in the Middle East to push the latest proposal for a ceasefire in Israel’s war in Gaza.

The top United States diplomat is expected to visit Egypt and Israel on Monday as he launches his eighth tour of the region in as many months, before continuing to Jordan and Qatar.

He will seek support for the latest draft of the ceasefire deal presented by President Joe Biden 10 days ago, which the US also hopes to put to a vote at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

However, with neither Israel nor Hamas having fully endorsed the plan, fighting continues, with air raids hitting across the Gaza Strip overnight on Sunday and Monday morning.

In Cairo, Blinken will meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi before visiting Israel for a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

As well as pressing the ceasefire proposal, the US official is set to discuss the reopening of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, a vital point for aid shipments into Gaza that Israel seized amid its ground invasion of the south of the enclave last month.

Categorical and permanent

Biden outlined on May 31 a three-phase proposal to achieve a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip that he said was presented by Israel. However, neither Israel nor Hamas has fully endorsed the plan, with negotiations ongoing.

A senior Hamas official, Sami Abu Zuhri, urged the US on Monday to press Israel to end the war.

“We call upon the US administration to put pressure on the occupation to stop the war on Gaza and the Hamas movement is ready to deal positively with any initiative that secures an end to the war,” he said.

The proposal includes the exchange of Palestinian prisoners with Israeli captives, withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, return of displaced Palestinians to their homes across the enclave, and a plan to reconstruct the territory, much of which has been destroyed since October 7.

More than 37,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war and about 84,000 injured, mostly women and children.

The trip comes as Washington has been working on multiple drafts of a resolution it aims to put to a vote at the UNSC to back up the proposal.

Reporting from Washington, DC, Al Jazeera’s Shihab Rattansi said that the latest version of the proposal differs in some significant ways from previous efforts.

“First of all, it explicitly states that Israel has accepted the ceasefire deal. A previous version only said that a ceasefire deal was acceptable to Israel,” he noted.

It also explicitly states that any ceasefire will continue after six weeks, and be renewed as long as negotiations continue.

“But it’s still not a categorical, permanent ceasefire. That’s what some members of the Security Council want,” Rattansi said.

Continued bombardment

Blinken’s trip comes two days after the Israeli military killed at least 274 Palestinians and wounded 698 more in Nuseirat in central Gaza as part of an operation that led to the release of four Israelis from Hamas captivity.

Hamas claimed that three more unnamed captives, including one holding US citizenship, were killed by Israeli forces during the raid, which was denied by Israel.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military continued its bombardment on sites across Gaza. Reporting from Deir el-Balah in central Gaza, Al Jazeera’s Hind Khoudary said bodies continue to arrive at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, threatening to overwhelm the only operating hospital in the area.

Late on Sunday, Benny Gantz announced he was resigning as Israeli war cabinet minister. While the move is unlikely to threaten the Netanyahu administration immediately, it will make him even more reliant on far-right allies.

Blinken has previously met Gantz during visits to Israel, but it is unclear if a visit is scheduled on Monday.

The eighth regional tour since the start of the war by the US diplomat also comes as tensions are boiling in border fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, with both sides signalling they are ready for war after eight months of border fighting.

Source: Al Jazeera