Apr 9, 2024 - World

Blinken says Hamas should accept "serious" Gaza hostage and ceasefire deal

Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, during a news conference at the US State Department in Washington, DC, US, on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a news conference on Dec. 20, 2023. Photo: Nathan Howard/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday said the new U.S. proposal for a hostage deal is "serious" and stressed Hamas needs to accept it in order to get a ceasefire in Gaza.

Why it matters: Hamas didn't reject the proposal out of hand. In a statement on Monday, the group said "despite the Israeli rejectionist position" Hamas' leadership will discuss the new U.S. proposal "in a responsible manner" and when finished will deliver a response to the Qatari and Egyptian mediators.

  • "The ball is in Hamas' court and the world is watching to see what it will do," Blinken said.

Driving the news: The new U.S. proposal presented by CIA Director Bill Burns in Cairo on Sunday includes the release of 40 hostages held in Gaza in return for a six-week ceasefire.

  • The proposed deal would also involve Israel releasing 900 Palestinian prisoners — 200 more than a previous proposal, Israeli officials said. 
  • It notes that 100 of the prisoners will be those serving life sentences for murdering Israelis, the same number in the previous proposal.
  • Israeli officials said Israel demands the ability to veto the release of specific prisoners as well as the possibility of deporting prisoners who will be released abroad so they do not return to the West Bank or Gaza.

A key issue in the new proposal concerns Israel's demand that Hamas release 40 hostages who are alive, even if some of them do not meet the original criteria for release on humanitarian grounds.

  • The first phase of the deal includes the release of women, female soldiers, men over the age of 50 and men under the age of 50 with serious medical conditions.
  • In recent negotiations, Hamas said it does not have 40 living hostages from these categories, according to Israeli officials.
  • The senior Israeli officials say they believe that is accurate and that a single-digit number of hostages from other categories would be needed to reach the release of 40 hostages.
  • Israel proposed Hamas close the gap with soldiers or men under the age of 50 being held as hostages and Israel would release a higher number of Palestinian prisoners for each of these hostages, the officials said.

The U.S. proposal includes a gradual and almost complete withdrawal of Israel from the corridor that splits the Gaza Strip and prevents Palestinians from returning to the north.

  • The proposal says that by the end of the implementation of the phase, Israeli checkpoints that prevent passage to the north of the Gaza Strip will be completely removed, one official said.

Behind the scenes: White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Tuesday told reporters that he spoke with the prime minister of Qatar who told him he hasn't received a response from Hamas yet.

  • "I pressed him to secure an answer from them as soon as possible," Sullivan said.
  • He added that the Biden administration thinks Israel has taken some steps forward with what it is willing to compromise on as part of a hostage deal.
  • "We have seen Hamas' public statements that have been less than encouraging," he said.

Vice President Kamala Harris met today with families of Americans taken hostage by Hamas on Oct. 7.

  • Harris underscored that reuniting hostages with their loved ones is a top priority for the administration, the White House said. She also said the U.S. is working to bring home the remains of hostages confirmed to be deceased.

What to watch: The Israeli security Cabinet received an update on Tuesday on the hostage negotiations. Senior Israeli officials said no decisions are expected for now because Israel is still waiting for Hamas' response.

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