Blinken visits ME next week to discuss ‘principles he laid out for future of Gaza’

WASHINGTON: Secretary of State US, Antony Blinken will pay his third wartime visit to the Middle East this week to hold meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah.

According to a senior US official, “The secretary will stress the need to sustain the increased flow of humanitarian assistance to Gaza, secure the release of all hostages and improve protection to civilians in Gaza.”

He will discuss “the principles he laid out for the future of Gaza and the need to establish an independent Palestinian state,” the official added.

Mediator Qatar announced a two-day extension in truce between Israel and Hamas hours before the pause was due to end Tuesday, as more hostages were freed from Gaza in exchange for the release of dozens of Palestinian prisoners.

“The Palestinian and Israeli sides have reached an agreement to extend the humanitarian pause in Gaza for two additional days under the same conditions,” Qatar’s foreign ministry said in a statement on X, formerly Twitter.

Hamas also confirmed the extension and Israeli media reported the government had received a new list of 10 more hostages who would be freed. However, there was no official word from Israel.

The news of the extension came as 11 more hostages were freed from Gaza overnight, along with the release of another 33 Palestinian prisoners — the last exchange under the existing deal.

The extension of the truce, which had been scheduled to end at 7:00am (0500 GMT), was welcomed internationally.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called it “a glimpse of hope and humanity in the middle of the darkness of war”.

The truce paused fighting that began when Hamas militants poured over the border into Israel, killing 1,200 people, and kidnapping dozens, according to Israeli officials.

Israel’s retaliatory ground and air operation in Gaza has killed almost 15,000 people, mostly civilians, according to the territory’s Hamas government.

Late Monday, 11 hostages arrived in Israel, the country’s military said.

“Our forces will accompany them until they are reunited with their families,” it said in a statement, adding that the military “salutes and embraces the released hostages upon their return home”.

Most of the group are dual nationals, with Argentinians, Germans and French among those released, and all 11 were from the Nir Oz kibbutz, the community said.

In all, 50 Israeli hostages have been released under the truce deal, in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners, with another 19 hostages freed under separate agreements, including Thai workers and a dual Russian-Israeli citizen.

Hamas said it was now drawing up lists of additional hostages to be released, though the process is reportedly complicated by the fact that some are held by other militant groups.

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that “in order to extend the pause, Hamas has committed to releasing another 20 women and children”.

Israel views the truce as temporary to secure hostage releases and plans to continue its war, with the government agreeing a 30.3 billion shekel ($8.2 billion) war budget that will now go to parliament.

But it faces increasing pressure for a more lasting ceasefire and the ramp-up of humanitarian aid to Gaza, where an estimated 1.7 million people have been displaced, according to the United Nations.

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