US Secretary of State briefs Israel on ceasefire and hostage talks as Gaza war enters fifth month

TEL AVIV: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Israeli leaders on Wednesday after Hamas put forward a detailed plan for a new cease-fire and hostage release deal, but both sides remain dug in on their thus far elusive goals as the war enters its fifth month.Hamas laid out a three-phase plan to unfold over 4 1/2 months, responding to a proposal drawn up by the United States, Israel, Qatar and Egypt. All hostages would be released in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, including senior militants, and an end to the war.The proposal would effectively leave Hamas in power in Gaza and allow it to rebuild its military capabilities, a scenario that Israeli leaders have adamantly rejected. President Joe Biden said Hamas’ demands are “a little over the top” but that negotiations will continue.The deadliest round of fighting in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has killed over 27,000 Palestinians, levelled entire neighbourhoods, driven the vast majority of Gaza’s population from their homes, and pushed a quarter of the population to starvation.Iran-backed militant groups across the region have conducted attacks, mostly on US and Israeli targets, in solidarity with the Palestinians, drawing reprisals as the risk of a wider conflict grows.Israel remains deeply shaken by Hamas’ Oct 7 attack, in which militants burst through the country’s vaunted defences and rampaged across southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducting some 250, around half of whom remain in captivity in Gaza.Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the war will continue until “total victory” over Hamas and the return of all the remaining hostages.

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