Blinken in Israel to push Gaza ceasefire plan

Tuesday, Jun 11, 2024

TEL AVIV: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Israel on Monday to promote a Gaza truce and hostage release plan as Israeli bombardment again rocked the Palestinian territory.

After a stop in Egypt to meet President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Blinken arrived in Israel for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But Israeli politics and silence from Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, at war with Israel for eight months, raised questions as to whether Blinken can succeed.

It is the eighth visit to the region by Washington´s top diplomat since the war began on October 7 with Hamas´s unprecedented attack on Israel.

Netanyahu has been politically buoyed in Israel by a rescue mission that succeeded in freeing four hostages on Saturday but was deadly and destructive for Palestinians.

A day later, though, Netanyahu received his first major political blow of the conflict when Benny Gantz and a second member of his war cabinet quit.

Gantz, a former army chief, criticised Netanyahu especially for failing to outline a post-war governance plan for Gaza, and said the prime minister “is preventing us” from a “real victory”.

The centrist politician also challenged Netanyahu to set a date for elections, a demand shared by a protest movement that has regularly and noisily taken to Israel´s streets against the right-wing government. Blinken was also expected to meet Gantz during his visit, a senior United States official said.

Witnesses in north and central Gaza reported helicopter gunfire and naval shelling hitting Gaza City, and air strikes on Deir al-Balah during the latest fighting.

Street battles raged in the southern areas of Rafah and Khan Yunis, where bodies were seen lying in the streets and Palestinian civilians were fleeing, an AFP correspondent said.

Outside the European Hospital in Khan Yunis, a grief-stricken man lay down among white-shrouded bodies to hug one of them after they were loaded onto a truck. Other men had to pull him from the body bag.

The latest clashes follow major combat and heavy airstrikes during Saturday´s hostage rescue mission in the Nuseirat camp.

While Israelis celebrated the return of the four captives in good physical health, Palestinians condemned a death toll that health officials in the Hamas-ruled territory said left 274 people killed and almost 700 injured, many of them women and children.