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Blinken urges Hamas to agree Gaza truce as he meets Israel leaders



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United States Secretary of State and diplomat Antony Blinken urged Hamas to accept a truce in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to send troops into its far southern city of Rafah.

Washington has heightened pressure on all sides to reach a ceasefire — a message pushed by Blinken, who was on his seventh regional tour since the Gaza war broke out in October.

“Even in these very difficult times we are determined to get a ceasefire that brings the hostages home — and to get it now,” Blinken said as he met Israeli President Isaac Herzog in Tel Aviv.

“And the only reason that that wouldn’t be achieved is because of Hamas.”

Herzog’s role is largely ceremonial but later Blinken was due to meet the hawkish Netanyhu to press US calls for a truce, more aid into Gaza and better protection for civilians.

Hours before Blinken landed in Tel Aviv late Tuesday, the right-wing premier fired a shot across his bows, vowing to send Israeli ground troops into Rafah despite US concerns for the safety of the 1.5 million civilians sheltering in Gaza’s far southern city.

“We will enter Rafah and we will eliminate the Hamas battalions there with or without a deal,” he told families of some of the hostages still being held in Gaza, his office said.

Netanyahu’s comments came as Hamas was weighing the latest plan for a truce proposed in Cairo talks with US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators.

The Palestinian militant group said it was considering a plan for a 40-day ceasefire and the exchange of scores of hostages for larger numbers of Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas, whose envoys returned from Cairo talks to their base in Qatar, would “discuss the ideas and the proposal”, said a Hamas source, adding that “we are keen to respond as quickly as possible”.

Al-Qahera News, a site linked to Egyptian intelligence services, earlier reported that Hamas negotiators were due to “return with a written response”.

An Israeli official told AFP the government “will wait for answers until Wednesday night”, and then “make a decision” whether to send envoys to Cairo

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