The Latest | Blinken in Israel to push for a cease-fire in Gaza, says ‘the time is now’

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Israel on Wednesday to press for a cease-fire deal, saying “the time is now” and warning that Hamas would bear the blame for any failure to get an agreement to halt the war in Gaza off the ground.

Blinken greeted the families of Israeli hostages held in Gaza who were protesting outside a meeting between him and Israel’s president, telling them that setting their loved ones free was “at the heart of everything we’re trying to do.”

On his seventh visit since the latest war between Israel and Hamas broke out in October, Blinken is trying to advance a truce that would free hostages held by Hamas in exchange for a halt to the fighting and delivery of much needed food, medicine and water into Gaza. Palestinian prisoners are also expected to be released as part of the deal.

On Oct. 7, militants launched an unprecedented raid into southern Israel, killing around 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and abducting around 250 hostages. Israel says the militants still hold around 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others.

The Israel-Hamas war has flattened huge swaths of Gaza’s north, and famine is imminent for the hundreds of thousands of civilians who remain there. Nearly seven months of Israeli bombardment and ground offensives in Gaza have killed more than 34,500 Palestinians, according to local health officials, and sparked a humanitarian catastrophe. On Tuesday, Blinken said that Israel plans on opening a major humanitarian aid crossing into hard-hit northern Gaza.


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Here’s the latest:


TEL AVIV, Israel — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken greeted the families of Israeli hostages held in Gaza who were protesting outside a meeting he held earlier Wednesday with Israel’s president.

Blinken briefly greeted several dozen demonstrators calling for an immediate hostage release deal on the sidewalk outside a Tel Aviv hotel. Earlier, he had met the families of Americans held captive by Hamas.

Chanting “SOS, USA, only you can save the day” and “In Blinken we trust, bring them home to us,” the protestors urged Blinken to make their case to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his War Cabinet.

Blinken told them that setting their loved ones free was “at the heart of everything we’re trying to do.”

In its Oct. 7 raid, Hamas killed 1,200 people and took some 250 people captive. About 100 were freed in a November truce. Hamas and other militant groups still hold 100, as well as the remains of 30 more, according to Israeli authorities.

Blinken is in the region to try to push Israel and Hamas to agree to a cease-fire deal that might bring a pause to the nearly seven-month-long war and free some of the remaining hostages. An emerging deal would see the release of 33 hostages in a first phase lasting six weeks, in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.


CAIRO — The Gaza Health Ministry said Wednesday the bodies of 33 people killed by Israeli strikes have been brought to local hospitals over the past 24 hours. Hospitals also received 57 wounded, it said in its daily report.

That brings the overall Palestinian death toll from the Israel-Hamas war to at least 34,568, the ministry said, and 77,765 wounded.

The Health Ministry does not distinguish between fighters and civilians in its tallies, but says that women and children make up around two-thirds of those killed.

The Israeli military says it has killed 13,000 militants, without providing evidence to back up the claim.


CAIRO, Egypt — Hamas has asked Egyptian and Qatari mediators to provide clarity on the terms of the latest cease-fire proposal being discussed as part of negotiations with Israel, an Egyptian official said Wednesday.

The official, who has close ties to the talks and spoke on condition of anonymity in order to freely discuss the deal, said Hamas wants clear terms for the unconditional return of displaced people to the north of Gaza and to ensure that the second stage of the deal will include discussing the gradual and complete withdrawal of all Israeli troops from the entire Gaza Strip.

The official said the current deal didn’t fully explain who would be allowed to return north and how it would be decided.

It was not clear if Hamas’ demand for clarity would delay progress on the deal that’s emerging out of some of the first serious rounds of talks between the sides in months. Israel and Hamas have been far apart on the key issue of whether the war eventually ends as part of a later phase of the deal.

The emerging phased deal includes the release of 33 civilian and sick hostages held by militants in exchange for a halt to the fighting and the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.


AP writer Samy Magdy contributed to this report.


TEL AVIV, Israel — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was meeting with Israeli leaders on Wednesday, telling the country’s ceremonial president that “the time is now” for a cease-fire deal.

Blinken has blamed Hamas for any delay is getting a deal off the ground.

“We are determined to get a cease-fire that brings the hostages home and to get it now, and the only reason that that wouldn’t be achieved is because of Hamas,” he said.

Blinken visited key regional leaders in Saudi Arabia and Jordan before arriving to Israel. He met Israeli President Isaac Herzog and was set to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later. According to the State Department, he will meet also with families of the hostages as well as visit an Israeli port where aid is entering for shipment to Gaza.

The emerging deal between Israel and Hamas appears to be gaining steam but a key sticking point remains over whether the war will end as part of the agreement, a demand Hamas has stuck to and which Israel rejects.

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