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Blinken meets Sisi in Cairo at start of Mideast tour

By AFP - Jun 10,2024 - Last updated at Jun 10,2024

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to reporters after his meeting with the Egyptian president, at Cairo airport, on Monday (AFP photo)

CAIRO — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi in Cairo on Monday at the start of a regional tour to push for a much awaited Gaza ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

In closed-door talks also attended by Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel, Sisi and Blinken discussed “joint efforts to reach a ceasefire and hostage-prisoner exchange” deal, according to a statement from the presidency.

Egypt, the first Arab state to recognise Israel and sign a peace treaty with it in 1979, has along with the US and Qatar been engaged in mediation efforts between Hamas and Israel that have repeatedly floundered.

Speaking to reporters before leaving Cairo for his next stop in Jerusalem, Blinken said he had a “very good exchange” with Sisi, adding that regional leaders should “press Hamas” to agree to the truce proposal.

The two had also been expected to discuss plans to reopen the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza, a key conduit for aid into the besieged territory which has been closed for a month since Israeli troops seized its Palestinian side.

“Deal or no deal, it remains absolutely essential that we get more aid to Palestinians who need it,” Blinken told reporters.

The top US diplomat’s eighth visit to the region since war broke out in early October is intended to gather support for a ceasefire proposal announced on May 31 by US President Joe Biden.

Except for a one-week truce in November — which saw some 100 hostages freed, most of them in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails — negotiations have failed to halt the fighting.

 

‘Press Hamas’ 

 

Under the latest proposal, Israel would withdraw from Gaza population centres and Hamas would free hostages as fighting halts for an initial six weeks, with the truce extended as negotiators seek a permanent end to hostilities.

Hamas has not formally responded to the plan.

Blinken said on Monday his message to regional governments was that “if you want a ceasefire, press Hamas to say yes” to the proposal.

Biden has described the plan as an Israeli initiative, but prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to push on with the war until Israel achieves all of its goals, including the annihilation of Hamas as a military and political force.

Blinken’s next stop is Jerusalem later on Monday, where he is set to meet Netanyahu, as well as Benny Gantz — a centrist politician who on Sunday resigned from the war cabinet over the premier’s handling of the war.

Blinken will then head to Jordan and Qatar for further talks.

The war broke out after the October 7 attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Israel’s retaliatory military offensive has killed at least 37,124 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.

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