GAZA STRIP: US top diplomat Antony Blinken touched down on Wednesday in the Middle East to bolster international efforts to secure a truce in the war, as the threat of famine looms in besieged Gaza.

Global concern has mounted over the military conflict now in its sixth month. The latest flare-ups included an Israeli assault on Gaza City’s Al-Shifa Hospital complex, an area crowded with thousands of patients and people seeking refuge.

Overnight bombings and battles across the territory killed 90 people, said the health ministry in Gaza, which put the overall Palestinian death toll at close to 32,000.

A senior Hamas official said on Wednesday that Israel’s response to the group’s latest Gaza ceasefire proposal was negative after mediators handed it over.

Hamas says Israeli response to its truce proposal is negative

“On Tuesday evening, our brothers, the mediators, informed us of the occupations position on the proposal … it is a negative response in general and does not respond to the demands… In fact, it retracts the approvals it previously provided to the mediators,” Osama Hamdan told a press conference in Beirut.

He said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government were responsible for the failure to negotiate a hostage release in exchange for Palestinian prisoners and stop the fighting in Gaza.

Blinken landed in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday as part of a regional tour to discuss efforts to secure a Gaza truce that includes a stop in Israel.

The US top diplomat touched down in Jeddah where he was expected to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, said an AFP journalist on board.

Blinken is due to travel on Thursday to Egypt, which borders Gaza and has been involved in previous mediation efforts. The following day, he will head to Israel in a previously unscheduled visit that comes amid strained ties between US President Joe Biden and Israeli PM Netanyahu. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller announced the Israel visit as Blinken landed in Saudi Arabia.

The top diplomat will discuss with Israeli officials “the ongoing negotiations to secure the release of all hostages” and efforts to boost aid deliveries to Gaza, Miller said.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant will visit Washington in the coming week for talks with Pent­agon chief Lloyd Austin.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2024

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