Blinken welcomes UN vote in favor of Gaza cease-fire plan and again calls on Hamas to accept it

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TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that the U.N. Security Council’s vote in favor of a U.S.-backed proposal for a cease-fire in Gaza made it “as clear as it possibly could be” that the world supports the plan, as he again called on Hamas to accept it.

“Everyone’s vote is in, except for one vote, and that’s Hamas,” Blinken told reporters in Tel Aviv after meeting with Israeli officials. Blinken said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had “reaffirmed his commitment to the proposal” when they met late Monday.

Blinken's latest visit to the region — his eighth since Hamas' Oct. 7 attack ignited the war — is focused on rallying support for the cease-fire proposal, boosting the entry of humanitarian aid and advancing postwar plans for Gaza's governance. He is traveling on to Jordan as well as Qatar, which along with Egypt has served as a key mediator with Hamas.

The proposal, announced by President Joe Biden last month, calls for a three-phased plan in which Hamas would release the rest of the hostages in exchange for a lasting cease-fire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza. The group is still holding around 120 hostages, a third of whom are believed to be dead.

Biden presented it as an Israeli proposal, but Netanyahu has publicly disputed key aspects of it, saying Israel won’t end the war without destroying Hamas and returning all the hostages.

Hamas has not yet formally responded to the proposal. The militant group welcomed the U.N. resolution and supports the broad outline of the agreement but has demanded assurances it will be implemented. The militant group embraced a similar proposal last month that was rejected by Israel.

“Efforts are continuing to study and clarify some matters to ensure implementation by the Israeli side,” Hamas spokesman Jihad Taha said Tuesday. Israel “has not given clear approval or commitments to implementation that would lead to ending the aggression,” he said.

On Monday, the U.N. Security Council voted overwhelmingly to approve the proposal, with 14 of the 15 members voting in favor and Russia abstaining. The resolution calls on Israel and Hamas “to fully implement its terms without delay and without condition.”

The proposal has raised hopes of ending an 8-month war that has killed over 37,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, and driven some 80% of the population of 2.3 million from their homes. Israeli restrictions and ongoing fighting have hindered efforts to bring humanitarian aid to the isolated coastal enclave, fueling widespread hunger.

The war began when Hamas and other militants stormed into Israel on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 hostage. Over 100 hostages were released during a weeklong cease-fire last year in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Biden’s May 31 announcement of the new proposal said it would begin with an initial six-week cease-fire and the release of some hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. Israeli forces would withdraw from populated areas and Palestinian civilians would be allowed to return to their homes.

Phase one also requires the safe distribution of humanitarian assistance “at scale throughout the Gaza Strip,” which Biden said would lead to 600 trucks with aid entering Gaza every day.

In phase two, the resolution says that with the agreement of Israel and Hamas, “a permanent end to hostilities, in exchange for the release of all other hostages still in Gaza, and a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza” will take place.

Phase three would launch “a major multi-year reconstruction plan for Gaza and the return of the remains of any deceased hostages still in Gaza to their families.”

The conflicting signals from Netanayahu appear to reflect his political dilemma. His far-right coalition allies have rejected the proposal and have threatened to bring down his government if he ends the war without destroying Hamas. A lasting cease-fire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza would likely allow Hamas to retain control of the territory and rebuild its military capabilities.

But Netanyahu is also under mounting pressure to accept a deal to bring the hostages back. Thousands of Israelis, including families of the hostages, have demonstrated in favor of the U.S.-backed plan.

The transition from the first to the second phase appears to be a sticking point. Hamas wants assurances that Israel will not resume the war, and Israel wants to ensure that protracted negotiations over the second phase do not prolong the cease-fire indefinitely while leaving hostages in captivity.

Blinken said the proposal would bring an immediate cease-fire and commit the parties to negotiate an enduring one. “The cease-fire that would take place immediately would remain in place, which is manifestly good for for everyone. And then we’ll have to see,” Blinken said.

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Sewell reported from Beirut.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Gaza at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

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