Hamas responds to a proposed cease-fire as Blinken meets Israeli leaders

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Jerusalem:  Hamas has put forward a detailed plan for a new cease-fire and hostage release deal with Israel, which will be discussed when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets Wednesday with Israeli leaders.

Qatar’s prime minister said Tuesday that Hamas gave a “generally positive” answer to the latest plan for Gaza, but the Palestinian militant group’s response would effectively leave the militant group in power in Gaza and allow it to rebuild its military capabilities, a scenario that Israel adamantly rejects.

More than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people is now crammed into the town of Rafah on the border with Egypt and surrounding areas, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Tuesday. The Palestinian death toll after nearly four months of war has reached 27,707 people, the Health Ministry in Gaza said.

A quarter of Gaza’s residents are starving and 85 per cent of the population has been driven from their homes, with hundreds of thousands surviving in makeshift tent camps.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia reiterated that it won’t normalize ties with Israel without recognition of an independent Palestinian state and a full Israeli military withdrawal from Gaza.

The Foreign Ministry outlined its “firm position” in a statement released Wednesday, two days after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Biden administration has spent much of the past year pushing for a potentially historic agreement in which Saudi Arabia would recognize Israel in return for US defense guarantees, assistance in setting up a civilian nuclear program and major progress toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In the latest statement, Saudi Arabia appeared to sharpen its demands.

“The Kingdom has communicated its firm position to the US administration that there will be no diplomatic relations with Israel unless an independent Palestinian state is recognized on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, and that the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip stops and all Israeli occupation forces withdraw from the Gaza Strip,” the statement said.

Israel captured east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – territories the Palestinians want for their future state – in the 1967 Mideast war.

Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognized by most of the international community and views the entire city as its capital. It has built Jewish settlements across the occupied West Bank that are now home to over 5,00,000 Israelis. It withdrew soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005 but along with Egypt imposed a blockade on the territory when Hamas seized power there two years later.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a government staunchly opposed to Palestinian statehood and has said Israel will maintain open-ended security control over Gaza even after the war against Hamas.

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