US Pushes for Gaza Ceasefire Blinken Meets Israeli PM for Talks
US Pushes for Gaza Ceasefire Blinken Meets Israeli PM for Talks

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Wednesday to discuss efforts for a ceasefire as the Gaza conflict reaches its fifth month.

Negotiated by US, Qatari, and Egyptian intermediaries, Israel and Hamas are considering a proposal aimed at temporarily halting hostilities, securing the release of Gaza hostages, and freeing Palestinian prisoners.

"There's still much to be done," Blinken remarked in Doha on Tuesday evening, following visits to Saudi Arabia and Egypt. "But we remain committed to the possibility of an agreement, which we see as essential. We'll persist in our efforts to achieve it," Blinken assured reporters.

Despite diplomatic endeavors, violence persists in Hamas-governed Gaza. Overnight, the health ministry reported over 100 fatalities, while AFP journalists observed intensified bombing in southern cities.

Israeli forces continue their advance southward, particularly in Khan Yunis, as concerns mount among Gaza's over one million inhabitants, particularly those near Rafah on the Egyptian border, now facing the encroaching frontlines.

"I fear Israel will launch a ground operation in Rafah," expressed Dana Ahmed, 40, displaced from Gaza City and currently residing in Rafah with her three children. "The situation is catastrophic. I feel like I'm living a horror movie."

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant hinted at further escalations, vowing to reach new battlefronts, including Rafah, Hamas's stronghold, raising alarms from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) about potential civilian casualties.

The conflict has exacted a heavy toll, with at least 27,585 casualties, predominantly women and children, as per Gaza's health ministry. The campaign's impact extends beyond casualties, causing extensive displacement and exacerbating existing shortages of essentials.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies labeled the humanitarian situation in Gaza "beyond catastrophic."

Efforts for a new ceasefire agreement, building on a previous week-long truce in November, are underway. Hamas has reportedly responded positively to a proposed six-week cessation of hostilities, a hostage-prisoner exchange, and increased aid for Gaza.

Addressing Hamas's response, Blinken assured discussions with Israeli counterparts, while Netanyahu emphasized Israel's steadfast pursuit of "total victory."

Beyond Gaza, Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen have supported Hamas, prompting retaliatory strikes from Israel, the US, and allies. Recent incidents include strikes on Iran-affiliated targets in Syria and Iraq, as well as clashes with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

In Syria, Israeli airstrikes in Homs claimed ten lives, including civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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