Israeli assault on Gaza's Rafah would be a 'mistake' and isn't needed to defeat Hamas, Blinken says

Only a ceasefire will bring any end to the suffering in Gaza, ITV News Correspondent Emma Murphy reports

An Israeli assault on Gaza's Rafah would be a "mistake" US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday, adding that it is not necessary to defeat Hamas.

His comments come as relations between Israel and the US become more strained than they were at the start of the conflict triggered by Hamas' attacks on October 7.

The United States has submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council that calls "for an immediate ceasefire" in Gaza that is "tied to the release" of hostages held by Hamas.

In an interview with Al-Hadath in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Mr Blinken said that an agreement was "getting closer" and "the gaps are narrowing," according to a transcript released by the State Department.

“I think an agreement is very much possible,” the secretary of state said.

“We worked very hard with Qatar, with Egypt, and with Israel to put a strong proposal on the table. We did that; Hamas wouldn’t accept it. They came back with other requests, other demands. The negotiators are working on that right now,” Mr Blinken explained.

He did not give details about what gaps were narrowing or what suggested to him that an agreement is possible.

President Joe Biden last month expressed confidence that a ceasefire was near, but his administration later walked back that prediction after officials from Israel, Hamas and Qatar distanced themselves from Mr Biden’s optimism.

Mr Blinken again reiterated that the onus is on Hamas to accept the proposal that is on the table, with a senior Biden administration official telling reporters earlier this month that a six-week ceasefire was “basically accepted” by Israel.

“A very strong proposal was put on the table, and we have to see if Hamas can say yes to the proposal. If it does – if it does – that’s the most immediate way to alleviate the misery of people in Gaza, which is very much what we want,” Mr Blinken said.

He reiterated that not enough assistance is reaching the people of Gaza and called on Israel “to open up more access points to Gaza.”

He also said in his Al-Hadath interview that it is important to be ready “for what happens with the governance of Gaza” after the war ends.

The US has been asking Israel how it intends to protect the estimated 1.5 million Palestinians seeking refuge in the southern Gaza city ahead of a planned military operation there.

“We have to have a chance to talk to the Israelis about this, but as I said, what we don’t want to see is a major ground operation because we don’t see how that can be done without doing terrible harm to civilians,” he said.

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