Blinken to head to Middle East to push for Gaza ceasefire deal

Washington:  US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to travel to the Middle East next week, in his latest attempt to push for an end to the ongoing Gaza war. Blinken will visit Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Qatar from Monday to Wednesday, the State Department has said. “The Secretary will discuss with partners the need to reach a ceasefire agreement that secures the release of all hostages,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said. The planned trip comes after US President Joe Biden laid out a new three-phase plan to end the months-long war in Gaza between Israel and Palestinian extremist group Hamas. Blinken would “emphasize the importance of Hamas accepting the proposal on the table, which is nearly identical to one Hamas endorsed last month,” according to the statement. “The Secretary will discuss how the ceasefire proposal would benefit both Israelis and Palestinians. 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.” Neither Israel nor Hamas have so far agreed to the latest proposal, which envisages a complete and unrestricted ceasefire lasting six weeks. This is to lead to a permanent ceasefire in a second phase. Qatar, the US and Egypt have been mediating between Israel and Hamas for months to achieve a ceasefire and an exchange of hostages kept by the militant group for Palestinian prisoners. Following the Middle East trip, Blinken is scheduled to accompany Biden at the G7 leaders’ summit in Italy from June 13-14.

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