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Blinken says Hamas' new cease-fire proposal includes obvious non-starters


Israel is dismissing Hamas proposals on a new hostage deal and cease-fire in Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the plan delusional.


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Non-English language spoken).

SHAPIRO: "Surrendering to Hamas' delusional demands won't lead to freeing the captives," Netanyahu said. "It will just invite another massacre."

Netanyahu promised that the Israeli military would press on in Gaza until it had achieved what he called absolute victory over Hamas. Those comments came just hours after he met with America's top diplomat, who's in the region trying to get both sides to agree to a cease-fire and the release of hostages. NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. She's in Tel Aviv tonight. Hi, Michele.


SHAPIRO: There were some hopes earlier in the day that a cease-fire deal could be reached. Is that totally dead now?

KELEMEN: Well, Secretary Blinken doesn't think so. Take a listen to how he described the state of play.


ANTONY BLINKEN: While there are some clear nonstarters in Hamas' response, we do think it creates space for agreement to be reached, and we will work at that relentlessly until we get there.

KELEMEN: Now, what he's talking about is Hamas' response to a plan that the U.S., Qatar and Egypt have been discussing, and it would be a phased approach to ending the war, starting with a 45-day cease-fire, more aid to Gaza and the release of civilian hostages being held by Hamas. The goal is to eventually get all of the hostages out, including the bodies of dead Israelis. But what Hamas wants to get is Israeli troops out of Gaza, and it wants Israel to release Palestinian prisoners, including some facing life terms. Some of that might be what Blinken was referring to as nonstarters, but he didn't give any details.

SHAPIRO: So what happens now? Are the negotiations just over, or how do they continue?

KELEMEN: No, I think you'll see a lot of scrambling behind the scenes to see if there is room for negotiation, as Blinken seems to think there is. Hamas just gave its counterproposals to Qatar yesterday, and no one expected the talks to just end there. The problem is that it's getting, really, harder and harder to pass messages to and from Hamas leaders inside Gaza as the Israelis pursue them, so any further discussions are really going to take time.

SHAPIRO: Does Blinken just return to Washington after this whirlwind Mideast trip without anything to show for all his travels?

KELEMEN: Well, certainly no breakthrough, though I don't think his aides were really raising expectations that he would get one. What he's tried to do is talk about a future that could benefit Israelis and Palestinians, but one that would require some pretty fundamental decisions, particularly on the part of Netanyahu. He says that, you know, Saudi Arabia would normalize ties with Israel if there's an end to the war and a pathway to a Palestinian state, but he says these are things that the Israelis are going to have to decide. Take a listen.


BLINKEN: All that we can do is to show what the possibilities are, what the options are, what the future could be, and compare it to the alternative. And the alternative right now looks like an endless cycle of violence and destruction and despair.

KELEMEN: And that's certainly what we're seeing in Gaza right now, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, so what does all of this mean for civilians in Gaza?

KELEMEN: Well, the big concern is for the fate of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who are sheltering in southern Gaza, in the town of Rafah, which is near the border with Egypt. The Israeli defense minister has suggested that the fight against Hamas will move there. The U.N. secretary-general is warning that an Israeli offensive into Rafah would exponentially increase what he called a humanitarian nightmare. Blinken says he raised concerns about this with Israeli officials and reminded them that they have an obligation to protect civilians, though that's a - you know, a line that he's said here many times here before.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen, traveling with Secretary of State Blinken in Tel Aviv tonight. Thank you.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.