By Humeyra Pamuk
DOHA (Reuters) -U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday the United States was reviewing a response from Hamas to a hostage deal proposal that he called the best hope for ending the four-month-old war in Gaza.
Blinken, at a news conference in Qatar, declined to discuss details of Hamas’s response to the ceasefire offer, which would see the Palestinian militant group release hostages taken from Israel on Oct. 7 in return for Israel agreeing to an extended pause in fighting.
Blinken said the response had been shared with Israel and that he would discuss it with officials in Israel on Wednesday.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we continue to believe that an agreement is possible, and indeed essential,” Blinken said.
“The best path forward – the most effective path forward right now to get an extended period of calm and to work toward an end to the conflict is through an agreement on the hostages,” Blinken said.
Washington would use any pause to build out plans for the reconstruction and future governance of Gaza and further efforts for a wider regional peace agreement it hopes could see Saudi Arabia normalize relations with Israel in exchange for steps toward the creation of a Palestinian state, he said.
Israel began its military offensive in Gaza after militants from Hamas-ruled Gaza killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostages in southern Israel on Oct. 7.
Pressed on why the United States appeared unable to significantly influence Israel’s government over its military response – which has killed at least 27,585 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry – Blinken said diplomacy was “a process.”
“It’s almost never flipping a light switch. And it requires being in there with your sleeves rolled up every single day,” he said. He said U.S. engagement had helped get humanitarian aid into Gaza and that Washington was pressing Israel to protect civilians and working to prevent the conflict from spreading.
(Reporting by Humerya Pamuk in Doha; writing by Simon Lewis in Washington; Editing by Howard Goller and Deepa Babington)