Blinken to Return to Israel to Discuss Hostages and Planned Rafah Incursion

By John Mercury April 28, 2024

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will visit Israel next week, an Israeli official said on Friday, as talks on a cease-fire deal have stalled and tensions have risen between Israel and the United States over the treatment of civilians in the war.

The Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said talks with Mr. Blinken would center on the remaining hostages held in Gaza and an impending Israeli military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Mr. Blinken last visited Israel in March, when he warned that its plans to invade Rafah, where more than a million displaced Palestinians are sheltering, would pose severe risks to the population. Since then, the Biden administration has continued to raise concerns about the planned incursion, saying it should not be carried out without a credible plan to protect civilians.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has vowed to press ahead with the invasion, saying it is necessary to eliminate Hamas battalions in the city.

Mr. Blinken’s visit would come as international mediators have failed to broker a temporary cease-fire that would give Palestinians some respite from Israel’s bombardment and allow for the release of hostages abducted in the Hamas-led attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

The United States has proposed a deal through Egyptian and Qatari intermediaries in which Hamas would release 40 of the most vulnerable hostages in exchange for a six-week truce and the release of hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

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