Israel was waiting Monday for Hamas officials to respond to a proposal to end fighting in the Gaza Strip and release the remaining hostages there, as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken returned to the region seeking to rally support for such a deal.
A Hamas-linked Al-Aqsa television network said Sunday that Hamas was still holding consultations on the proposal, a week after it was made. The group’s leaders had previously pointed out that substantial gaps remained between the two sides, even as representatives from the United States, Egypt and Qatar sought common ground.
Mr Blinken, who landed in Saudi Arabia on Monday afternoon, hopes to advance talks on a series of interrelated deals to end the war in Gaza, and a deal to release hostages will be central to that effort.
Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that “the ball is in Hamas’ court.”
A deal that would free hostages, stop the fighting and allow humanitarian aid to reach Gaza was “of the utmost importance,” he added.
“We will push for this relentlessly, as the president has done, including in recent talks with the leaders of Egypt and Qatar, the two countries that are our central brokers in this effort,” Mr. Sullivan said.
The Hamas-led attacks on October 7, in which Israeli officials said about 1,200 people were killed and more than 200 others were taken hostage, sparked a war with Israel and sparked a wider crisis in the Middle East. Israel has exchanged fire with members of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Houthi militia that controls part of Yemen has fired on ships traveling to and from the Suez Canal.
Other Iranian-backed militants have launched attacks against US bases in the region, including one recently that the Biden administration said killed three US soldiers in Jordan.
The United States has responded to Houthi attacks with repeated strikes, including on Sunday, and to the attack in Jordan with a separate series of military strikes this weekend against Iranian forces and the militias they support in seven locations in Syria and Iraq. Top US national security officials said on Sunday that further retaliation against Iranian-backed militias was planned.
But Mr Sullivan said he believed those efforts were a separate issue from talks aimed at reaching a ceasefire agreement that both sides eluded from a week-long ceasefire in November.
“We believe that the steps we took on Friday and the steps we took against the Houthis last night are not connected to the hostage negotiations,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And we think now, at this point, it’s up to Hamas to come forward and respond to a serious proposal.”
— Aaron Boxerman and Michael D. Shear