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Fallout from violent hostage rescue: Hamas, Israel dig in as US pushes peace plan




U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pitched the latest cease-fire proposal in Cairo on Monday, urging Hamas to sign off on a three-stage plan the Biden administration says would free all militant-held hostages and end the fighting.

“My message to governments throughout the region, to people throughout the region, is if you want a ceasefire, press Hamas to say ‘yes’,” Blinken said after meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Bur senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters that Blinken’s comments reflected deeply entrenched U.S. support for Israel and were an obstacle to peace.

“Blinken’s speech during his visit to Egypt is an example of bias to Israel,” Abu Zuhri said. “It offers an American cover to the holocaust conducted by the occupation in Gaza.”

The trip, which also will include Israel, Qatar and Jordan, comes as the U.S. seeks a U.N. Security Council vote on the cease-fire resolution. The Biden administration says the Israeli government has already expressed support for the plan, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has not confirmed the claim.

Blinken was headed to Israel, where Netanyahu, buoyed by the weekend rescue of four hostages that drew rave reviews in Israel, reiterated his stand that the war will not stop until Hamas is eliminated.

“We are committed to total victory,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “We do not want to – and cannot – abandon the arena, not just because of the wonderful boys who have fallen, but because this is the future of the country. We have no choice.”

It was not clear how the hostage raid, which the Gaza Health Ministry says killed 274 Palestinians, might impact the cease-fire effort. The State Department is pressing its position that the deal is win for both sides.

“The Secretary will discuss how the cease-fire proposal would benefit both Israelis and Palestinians,” the department said in a statement. “He will underscore that it would alleviate suffering in Gaza, enable a massive surge in humanitarian assistance, and allow Palestinians to return to their neighborhoods.” 

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∎ Hamas leaders have given militants holding hostages standing orders to shoot their captives if they think Israeli forces are coming to free them, Israeli officials told the New York Times.

∎ The Biden administration is close to finalizing a treaty with Saudi Arabia that would commit the U.S. to help defend the Gulf nation while encouraging diplomatic ties between Riyadh and Israel, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing U.S. and Saudi officials.

The Treasury Department announced sanctions against 10 people, companies and ships accused of illegally transporting oil and other commodities for the Yemen-based Houthi rebels and financial facilitator Sa’id al-Jamal. The Houthis have been attacking ships in the Middle East since November, claiming the seizures are a show of support for the Palestinians under siege in Gaza. The latest round of sanctions include shipping companies based in India, the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong.

Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said in a statement the U.S. government is “committed to disrupting and degrading the Houthis’ ability to engage in attacks against commercial shipping and naval vessels.’

Residents in central Gaza refugee camp of Nuseirat were clearing away debris and searching for the dead after the massive Israel raid that freed four hostages Saturday. Palestinian officials say 274 people were killed, including scores of women and children, in one of the deadliest assaults of the war.

“We are exhausted and helpless, enough is enough,” said Jehad, who fled with his family to the nearby town of Deir al-Balah. The family had already been displaced from Gaza City to Nusseirat, to Khan Younis, to Rafah and back to Nusseirat since the war began.

Nusseirat resident Anas Alyan, standing outside the ruins of his home, described how Israel commandos in shorts had been shooting in the streets while F-16s and quadcopters − helicopters with four rotors −fired from the air.

“Anyone moving or walking, was killed immediately,” he said. “There are still children under this building. We don’t know how to pull them out.”

Contributing: Reuters

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