Blinken to travel to Middle East as US ratchets up pressure on ceasefire and hostage proposal

CNN || Shining BD

Published: 6/8/2024 3:14:14 AM
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the press at the port of Ashdod in southern Israel on May 1, 2024. Evelyn Hockstein/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the press at the port of Ashdod in southern Israel on May 1, 2024. Evelyn Hockstein/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to the Middle East next week as the United States seeks to ratchet up the pressure on a proposed ceasefire and hostage release deal that the administration argues could bring an end to the war in Gaza.

Blinken will head to Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Qatar to “discuss with partners the need to reach a ceasefire agreement that secures the release of all hostages,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller announced Friday.

The top US diplomat “will emphasize the importance of Hamas accepting the proposal on the table, which is nearly identical to one Hamas endorsed last month,” Miller said.

Hamas has not yet put forward a formal response to the proposal, which was transmitted to Hamas’ political wing by the Qataris last Thursday.

“We would hope for a response from Hamas as soon as possible, and we continue to wait,” Miller said at a press briefing Thursday.

A source familiar said Thursday that they expected a response in the coming days.

In his meetings, Blinken “will discuss how the ceasefire proposal would benefit both Israelis and Palestinians” and “will underscore that it would alleviate suffering in Gaza, enable a massive surge in humanitarian assistance, and allow Palestinians to return to their neighborhoods,” Miller said.

“It would unlock the possibility of achieving calm along Israel’s northern border – so both displaced Israeli and Lebanese families can return to their homes –and set the conditions for further integration between Israel and its Arab neighbors, strengthening Israel’s long-term security and improving stability across the region. The Secretary will also continue to reiterate the need to prevent the conflict from escalating further,” he said.

Blinken is the latest US official to travel to the region after President Joe Biden outlined the proposed deal last Friday, following visits by CIA Director Bill Burns and NSC official Brett McGurk. The top US diplomat has held a slew of calls to regional partners to discuss the proposal.

As CNN reported Thursday, the Biden administration has spent the last week pushing countries, particularly Egypt, Qatar, and Turkey, which have relations with Hamas to make specific threats to pressure the group to take the deal. The administration has asked multiple countries to threaten to freeze the bank accounts of Hamas members and clamp down on their ability to freely travel in the region, according to two US officials. In many cases, members of Hamas have long been able to operate freely despite being members of the terror group.

The US has urged Qatar – who allows Hamas to operate a political office in its capital – to declare that it will kick out the terrorist group if they don’t accept the deal, according to one of those US officials. After months of telling Hamas that they could risk getting kicked out, Qatar has now actually made that threat, that official said.

Miller said on Wednesday that the US has seen both Egypt and Qatar “exert significant pressure on Hamas,” but he refused to get into the details of those separate pressure campaigns.

In addition to meetings to push the deal, in Jordan, Blinken will attend “a conference on the urgent humanitarian response to Gaza, co-hosted by Jordan, Egypt, and the United Nations,” Miller said in his announcement Friday.

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