US top diplomat says Israel-Hamas truce is producing results
We hope it can continue, says Antony Blinken after last-minute agreement extends ceasefire in Gaza
Tel Aviv — US secretary of state Antony Blinken on Thursday said a temporary truce between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas has produced results and the US hopes it will continue.
Sitting beside Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Blinken said Washington is focused on helping to secure freedom for hostages taken to Gaza during an October 7 attack during which Israel says Hamas killed 1,200 people and kidnapped 240. Herzog said about 150 hostages remain in Gaza.
“We have seen over the last week the very positive development of hostages coming home, being reunited with their families. And that should continue today. It’s also enabled an increase in humanitarian assistance to go to innocent civilians in Gaza who need it desperately,” Blinken said. “So this process is producing results. It’s important, and we hope that it can continue,” Blinken said.
Their meeting in Tel Aviv took place on a morning when two Palestinian attackers opened fire at a bus stop during rush hour at the entrance to Jerusalem, killing at least three people and wounding eight others, Israeli police said. Both Blinken and Herzog condemned the attack.
Earlier on Thursday, Israel and Hamas struck a last-minute agreement to extend their six-day ceasefire in Gaza by one more day to allow negotiators to keep working on deals to swap hostages held in the coastal enclave for Palestinian prisoners.
In Jerusalem later, Blinken began meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a US official said. He was later due to meet Israel’s war cabinet and separately with opposition leader Yair Lapid, defence minister Yoav Gallant and minister without portfolio Benny Gantz.
The truce has brought the first respite to Gaza in seven weeks during which Israel bombed the territory heavily in response to Hamas’ October rampage.
It has also allowed much needed humanitarian aid into Gaza after large parts of the coastal territory of 2.3-million were reduced to a wasteland by Israel’s military campaign.
Blinken, making his third trip to the region since October 7, is expected to visit the occupied West Bank, where he is likely to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a Palestinian official said.
Washington’s top diplomat was also expected to discuss Israel’s looming offensive into southern Gaza. The US is asking Israel to take greater care to protect Palestinian civilians and limit damage to infrastructure in any offensive in the south, senior US officials said.
“I look forward to detailed conversations with the government of Israel about the way ahead in Gaza,” Blinken said.
Israel has sworn to annihilate Hamas, which rules Gaza. Health authorities in Gaza say Israel’s bombardment of the small, densely populated territory has so far killed more than 15,000 people.