Blinken to press hostage release deal on new Mideast trip

Published : 03 Feb 2024 09:27 PM

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will press a proposal to release Gaza-held hostages in return for a pause in the Israeli offensive during his latest crisis trip to the region next week, the State Department said Friday.

On his fifth crisis trip to the Middle East, Blinken will visit Qatar and Egypt -- the mediators of the proposal -- as well as Israel and the West Bank and Saudi Arabia starting Sunday, the State Department said.

Blinken "will continue diplomatic efforts to reach an agreement that secures the release of all remaining hostages and includes a humanitarian pause that will allow for sustained, increased delivery of humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

Qatari, Egyptian, Israeli and US officials met Sunday in Paris to discuss the proposal that would free hostages snatched by Hamas when its fighters carried out an unprecedented attack inside Israel on October 7.

Qatar earlier voiced hopes of "good news" after presenting the proposal to Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and maintains an office in Doha.

Blinken, speaking Monday after meeting in Washington with Qatar's prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, said there was "real hope" for success of the "good, strong proposal."

Hamas fighters killed around 1,160 people, mostly civilians, in the attack inside Israel on October 7, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Hamas also seized about 250 hostages, and Israel says 132 remain in Gaza, including at least 27 believed to have been killed.

After the attack, Israel launched a withering air and ground offensive that has killed at least 27,131 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.