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The Latest | In Israel, Blinken pushes Hamas to agree on Gaza cease-fire deal

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Israel on Wednesday to press for a cease-fire deal in the Israel-Hamas war, saying “ the time is now ” and warning that Hamas would bear the blame for any failure to reach an agreement to halt the war in Gaza.

On his seventh visit since the latest war between Israel and Hamas broke out in October, Blinken is trying to advance a truce that would free hostages held by Hamas in exchange for a halt to the fighting and delivery of much needed food, medicine and water into Gaza. Palestinian prisoners are also expected to be released as part of the deal.

The U.S. has pressured Israel to increase aid deliveries during the war, and on Tuesday, Israel reopened a border crossing with hard-hit northern Gaza Strip for the first time since it was damaged at the start of the war.

On Oct. 7, Palestinian militants launched an unprecedented attack into southern Israel, killing around 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and abducting around 250 hostages. Israel says militants still hold around 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others.

Nearly seven months of Israeli bombardment and ground offensives in Gaza have killed more than 34,500 Palestinians, according to local health officials, and sparked a humanitarian catastrophe. The war has driven around 80% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million from their homes, caused vast destruction in several towns and cities and pushed northern Gaza to the brink of famine.

Currently:

Live updates: Police crack down on U.S. college protests against the war in Gaza.

— Nonstop Mideast coverage of Israel-Hamas war pauses for protests and police action at U.S. schools.

— Blinken urges Israel and Hamas to move ahead with a cease-fire deal and says ‘the time is now.’

— Lebanese Christian leader says Hezbollah’s fighting with Israel has harmed Lebanon.

UCLA cancels classes after violence erupts on campus over the war in Gaza.

Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

Here’s the latest:

U.S. DEFENDS ITS VETO OF PALESTINAIN MEMBERSHIP IN U.N. GENERAL ASSEMBLY

UNITED NATIONS – The United States defended its veto of a strongly supported U.N. resolution that would have paved the way for full United Nations membership for Palestine. The U.S. stressed that while it supports a two-state solution, statehood must be the result of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

U.S. deputy ambassador Robert Wood told the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday that there are “unresolved questions” as to whether Palestine meets the U.N. criteria for membership, and premature actions at the U.N. “even with the best intentions will not achieve statehood for the Palestinian people.”

He said the United States is committed to intensifying its engagement with the Palestinians and the rest of the Mideast not only on the Gaza crisis “but to advance a political settlement that will create a path to Palestinian statehood and membership in the United Nations.”

Wood reiterated what he said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told regional partners during talks earlier this week — that the U.S. will oppose any unilateral measures that undermine the prospect of a two-state solution.

He cited the three principles Blinken reaffirmed: “that Gaza cannot be a platform for terrorism, that there should be no Israeli re-occupation of Gaza, and that the size of Gaza’s territory should not be reduced.”

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador, insisted that Palestine meets the qualifications for membership and said the General Assembly, where there are no vetoes, will vote May 10 on a resolution asking the Security Council to reconsider “favorably” Palestine’s bid for full membership.

Responding to the United States, he told the assembly: “You cannot say that you support the two-state solution and stand idly by while Israel is openly trying to destroy the Palestinian state, as openly confessed to by the Israeli prime minister.”

Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan countered that granting full U.N. membership to Palestine would have “two destructive results.” It will “further incentivize terrorists,” he said, and “it is a clear message to the Palestinians that they never, ever have to sit at the negotiating table, let alone make any compromises.”

U.S. SAYS CONSTRUCTION OF OFFSHORE AID PIER FOR GAZA IS ON SCHEDULE

WASHINGTON — The U.S. military’s construction of a floating pier and causeway to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza is more than half done and remains on track to begin operations early this month, the Defense Department said Wednesday.

Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh told reporters that the pier, which is located several miles offshore, is completely constructed and set up, and U.S. troops are now working on the causeway, which will be attached to the beach.

Singh said she did not have an exact date for the initial aid deliveries.

The USNS Roy P. Benavidez and several U.S. Army vessels are off the coast of Gaza assembling the pier and causeway. Once the causeway is finished, it will be anchored to the shore by the Israeli military.

U.S. military officials have said that deliveries will begin after that, once final security assessments have been made and confirm that the distribution area is also safe and ready to go.

HAMAS LEADERS SAY THEY’RE STUDYING CEASE-FIRE PROPOSAL AND WORKING ON A RESPONSE

BEIRUT — Hamas leaders say they are studying a cease-fire proposal put forward by Egyptian mediators and hope to respond by Thursday, according to a statement the militant group sent to The Associated Press late Wednesday.

The current round of truce talks between Israel and Hamas appears to be serious, but the sides remain far apart on one key issue — whether the war should end as part of an emerging deal.

“Most probably tomorrow, Thursday, God willing the mediators will be given a response,” the Hamas statement said.

Repeating their core positions, Hamas leadership said they’re working on a response to the proposal that results in an end to Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip, deliveries of much-needed humanitarian aid, and a start to rebuilding the devastated territory, as well as freeing hostages held by Hamas in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

According to an Egyptian official familiar with the plan, Israel has offered an extended halt in fighting and withdrawal of troops from the territory.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeated his determination to attack Rafah in talks with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday.

BLINKEN PRAISES ISRAELI COMPROMISES IN CEASE-FIRE TALKS

ASHDOD, Israel — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Israel has made “very important” compromises in cease-fire efforts, and it is now up to Hamas to get the deal done.

Blinken made the announcement Wednesday after a day of talks with Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during his seventh trip to the region since the war erupted last October.

“Israel has made very important compromises,” he said. “Hamas has to decide whether it will take the deal and actually advance the situation for the people that it purports to care about in Gaza.”

“There’s no time for further haggling. The deal is there,” Blinken said, shortly before he was to depart.

Egyptian mediators have reported significant progress in the talks, though there still appear to be disagreements over Hamas’ demand that a cease-fire include an end to the war and full withdrawal of all Israeli troops from Gaza.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, has pledged that Israel will invade the southern city of Rafah, Hamas’ last stronghold, with or without a deal.

Blinken said the U.S. remains opposed to an Israeli operation in Rafah until Israel finds a way to protect civilians. An estimated 1.5 million Palestinians are seeking shelter in Rafah, most of them people who fled war in other parts of the territory.

Blinken said his talks with Netanyahu focused on an agreement that involves an immediate cease-fire, the return of Israeli hostages held in Gaza and longer term arrangements.

Blinken also said he is seeing “meaningful progress” in efforts to deliver much-needed humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip, speaking after a visit to Israel’s border crossings used to deliver aid into Gaza.

Blinken praised recent Israeli efforts to increase the flow of aid – including the opening of an additional crossing into hard-hit northern Gaza on Wednesday. He also praised Israel for allowing its Ashdod seaport to be used for aid deliveries bound for Israel. He also lauded plans to open a new U.S.-built temporary pier off Gaza’s shore to process additional aid.

“We have seen in recent weeks real meaningful progress that is starting to make a difference for people in Gaza,” Blinken said. “It needs to be accelerated. It needs to be sustained.”

ISRAEL REOPENS EREZ CROSSING FOR DIRECT AID DELIVERIES INTO NORTHERN GAZA

EREZ CROSSING, Israel — Israel has reopened a border crossing to allow increased humanitarian aid into the hard-hit northern Gaza Strip for the first time since it was damaged on Oct. 7, bowing to intense U.S. pressure to increase aid deliveries.

The Erez crossing, which connects directly to northern Gaza, was reopened for the first time on Wednesday during a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. International aid organizations have reported a widespread humanitarian disaster in Gaza, warning that hundreds of thousands of people face the risk of famine in the besieged territory’s north.

“This is the first day that we reopened Erez crossing for a robust and continuous route for entrance of humanitarian aid into Gaza,” said Col. Moshe Tetro, a top official in COGAT, the Israeli military agency for Palestinian civilian affairs. He said he expected the crossing to operate daily and that U.N. organizations would distribute the aid inside Gaza.

Before Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, Erez served as a passenger crossing for Palestinians, including medical patients, laborers and travelers, going in and out of Gaza. The crossing suffered heavy damage in the attack and has been closed since then.

Israel has previously allowed aid to enter Gaza via land crossings near the Egyptian border, and limited aid to pass through temporary crossings in northern Gaza. But aid organizations have struggled to distribute aid in Gaza’s north, where the humanitarian situation is most dire.

The delivery was reportedly held up for at least two hours by Israeli demonstrators who blocked the convoy after it entered the West Bank from neighboring Jordan on its way to Gaza.

Jordan’s foreign ministry condemned “in the strongest terms” what it said was violence by Israeli extremists and accused the Israeli government of failing to protect the convoys.

PALESTINIANS IN GAZA RALLY IN SOLIDARITY WITH U.S. CAMPUS PROTESTS

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip — A small group of Palestinians demonstrated Wednesday in central Gaza in solidarity with pro-Palestinian protests taking place across university campuses in the United States.

At a camp for displaced people in the city of Deir al-Balah, signs read: “Thanks for your solidarity! THE OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY.” Other posters thanked several other American universities where pro-Palestinian demonstrations have been taking place, including Harvard, MIT, Northwestern and George Washington universities.

In the past two weeks, student groups opposed to Israel’s military campaign against Hamas militants in Gaza have led protests across renowned American universities reaching from New York to Texas and California. They have called on the schools to stop doing business with Israel or companies that support the war in Gaza.

“This protest is to thank American universities and American students for standing with us and conveying our message to the world to stop the war and genocide that is taking place in Gaza,” said Mai Afifi, a Palestinian university student.

“I hope that Arab and Islamic universities will stand with us like American universities and try to stop the genocide, because we are students with dreams and ambitions and we want to complete our university studies,” Afifi added.

SISTER OF HAMAS’ TOP LEADER PLACED UNDER HOUSE ARREST IN ISRAEL

TEL AVIV, Israel —An Israeli court has released the sister of Hamas’ top leader to house arrest, after she was indicted for incitement and identification with a terror group, Israeli media reported.

The sister of Hamas’ supreme leader Ismail Haniyeh, Sabah Haniyeh, 57, was born in Gaza but has Israeli citizenship and lives in southern Israel. She was arrested in early April and indicted on April 21.

Haniyeh was released to house arrest on Wednesday.

According to the indictment, she sent several messages praising the Oct. 7 attack to Whatsapp groups that seem to include members of the extended Haniyeh family.

Previously, rights groups have accused Israel of cracking down on Palestinian online expression during the war. Palestinians have been arrested by Israeli authorities, fired by Israeli employers and expelled from Israeli schools for online speech deemed incendiary, rights groups say.

Israel is currently holding negotiations mediated by the U.S., Egypt and Qatar to try to release dozens of hostages held by Hamas in exchange for a cease-fire in the nearly 7-month-old war.

Ismail Haniyeh lives in exile in Qatar.

TURKEY SAYS IT WILL JOIN SOUTH AFRICA’S CASE AGAINST ISRAEL AT ICJ

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan says his country has decided to formally join the legal case alleging genocide filed by South Africa against Israel at the International Court of Justice.

Speaking at a joint news conference with his Indonesian counterpart, Retno Marsudi, in Ankara, Fidan said Turkey would submit an official application to intervene in the case against Israel at the ICJ after completing procedures. He did not give a time frame.

“We hope that with this step the proceedings at the International Court of Justice will move in the right direction,” Fidan said.

South Africa filed a case at the ICJ accusing Israel of breaching the U.N. Genocide Convention with its military offensive against Hamas. Israel fervently denies that its military campaign in Gaza amounts to a breach of the Genocide Convention.

Turkey is among the strongest critics of Israel’s military actions in Gaza. Turkish President has described Israel’s actions as war crimes and genocide while asserting that the Hamas militant group, considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union, is fighting for the liberation of its lands and people.

A LEAKED CEASE-FIRE AGREEMENT INCLUDES ISRAELI WITHDRAWAL FROM GAZA

CAIRO — A leaked proposal detailing an emerging cease-fire agreement would include an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in exchange for a planned release of hostages.

The proposal, confirmed Wednesday by an Egyptian official and a Hamas official, sheds light on the thorny details being hammered out in a bid to secure the deal. The details were first reported by Al-Akhbar, a Lebanese newspaper close to Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah militant group.

According to the proposal, Hamas would release female civilian hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners during the first week of a 40-day initial phase of the deal.

After this first batch, Israeli troops would withdraw from a coastal road and head eastward to facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid and allow the return of displaced civilians to their homes in northern Gaza. Hamas would also provide a list of hostages who are still alive during that time.

Within the third week, both sides would start indirect negotiations that aim to restore permanent calm. Three weeks into the first phase, Israeli troops would withdraw from central Gaza.

The second six-week phase would finalize arrangements for a permanent calm, the release of all remaining hostages, both civilians and soldiers, held by Hamas, in exchange for more Palestinian prisoners. The soldier hostages will not be released before the start of the calm.

The third and final stage would include the release of the remains of hostages held in Gaza, more prisoners held by Israel and the start of a five-year reconstruction plan. The plan says that Hamas would agree not to rebuild its military arsenal.

Hamas earlier Wednesday said it wanted clarity from Egyptian mediators over certain terms of the deal, specifically over the unconditional return of displaced people to the north of Gaza and assurances the second stage will include a full withdrawal of all Israeli troops from Gaza.

The Egyptian and Hamas officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing behind the scenes negotiations.

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By Associated Press writer Samy Magdy

IN ISRAEL, BLINKEN ADDRESSES PROTESTERS SEEKING HOSTAGES’ RETURN

TEL AVIV, Israel — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken greeted the families of Israeli hostages held in Gaza who were protesting outside a meeting he held earlier Wednesday with Israel’s president.

Blinken briefly greeted several dozen demonstrators calling for an immediate hostage release deal on the sidewalk outside a Tel Aviv hotel. Earlier, he had met the families of Americans held captive by Hamas.

Chanting “SOS, USA, only you can save the day” and “In Blinken we trust, bring them home to us,” the protestors urged Blinken to make their case to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his War Cabinet.

Blinken told them that setting their loved ones free was “at the heart of everything we’re trying to do.”

In its Oct. 7 raid, Hamas killed 1,200 people and took some 250 people captive. About 100 were freed in a November truce. Hamas and other militant groups still hold 100, as well as the remains of 30 more, according to Israeli authorities.

Blinken is in the region to try to push Israel and Hamas to agree to a cease-fire deal that might bring a pause to the nearly seven-month-long war and free some of the remaining hostages. An emerging deal would see the release of 33 hostages in a first phase lasting six weeks, in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

HEALTH MINISTRY ADDS 33 PEOPLE TO THE ISRAEL-HAMAS WAR DEATH TOLL IN GAZA

CAIRO — The Gaza Health Ministry said Wednesday the bodies of 33 people killed by Israeli strikes have been brought to local hospitals over the past 24 hours. Hospitals also received 57 wounded, it said in its daily report.

That brings the overall Palestinian death toll from the Israel-Hamas war to at least 34,568, the ministry said, and 77,765 wounded.

The Health Ministry does not distinguish between fighters and civilians in its tallies, but says that women and children make up around two-thirds of those killed.

The Israeli military says it has killed 13,000 militants, without providing evidence to back up the claim.

HAMAS ASKS MEDIATORS TO CLARIFY CEASE-FIRE TERMS

CAIRO, Egypt — Hamas has asked Egyptian and Qatari mediators to provide clarity on the terms of the latest cease-fire proposal being discussed as part of negotiations with Israel, an Egyptian official said Wednesday.

The official, who has close ties to the talks and spoke on condition of anonymity in order to freely discuss the deal, said Hamas wants clear terms for the unconditional return of displaced people to the north of Gaza and to ensure that the second stage of the deal will include discussing the gradual and complete withdrawal of all Israeli troops from the entire Gaza Strip.

The official said the current deal didn’t fully explain who would be allowed to return north and how it would be decided.

It was not clear if Hamas’ demand for clarity would delay progress on the deal that’s emerging out of some of the first serious rounds of talks between the sides in months. Israel and Hamas have been far apart on the key issue of whether the war eventually ends as part of a later phase of the deal.

The emerging phased deal includes the release of 33 civilian and sick hostages held by militants in exchange for a halt to the fighting and the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.

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AP writer Samy Magdy contributed to this report.

BLINKEN IN ISRAEL TO PRESS THAT ‘THE TIME IS NOW’ FOR A CEASE-FIRE DEAL

TEL AVIV, Israel — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was meeting with Israeli leaders on Wednesday, telling the country’s ceremonial president that “the time is now” for a cease-fire deal.

Blinken has blamed Hamas for any delay is getting a deal off the ground.

“We are determined to get a cease-fire that brings the hostages home and to get it now, and the only reason that that wouldn’t be achieved is because of Hamas,” he said.

Blinken visited key regional leaders in Saudi Arabia and Jordan before arriving to Israel. He met Israeli President Isaac Herzog and was set to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later. According to the State Department, he will meet also with families of the hostages as well as visit an Israeli port where aid is entering for shipment to Gaza.

The emerging deal between Israel and Hamas appears to be gaining steam but a key sticking point remains over whether the war will end as part of the agreement, a demand Hamas has stuck to and which Israel rejects.

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