Blinken arrives in Egypt, US pushes for Gaza ceasefire

Daphne Psaledakis |

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz says he is withdrawing from Israel’s unity government.
War cabinet minister Benny Gantz says he is withdrawing from Israel’s unity government.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has landed in Egypt at a critical time as Washington seeks to increase pressure on Hamas and Israel to reach a ceasefire in Gaza and ensure the war does not expand into Lebanon.

Blinken met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo and is scheduled to travel to Israel later in the day, where he will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

In his eighth visit to the region since Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7, triggering the bloodiest episode in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the top US diplomat is also set to travel to Jordan and Qatar this week.

Antony Blinken (left) and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. (AP PHOTO)

The visit comes after US President Joe Biden on May 31 outlined a three-phase ceasefire proposal from Israel that envisions a permanent end to hostilities, the release of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners, and the reconstruction of Gaza.

The Hamas attack killed 1200 people and took some 250 others hostage, according to Israeli tallies. 

In response, Israel launched an assault on the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians, the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory says, and reduced the enclave to a wasteland.

Israeli forces rescued four hostages held by Hamas since October in a raid in Gaza on Saturday, during which 274 Palestinians were killed, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Blinken’s trip comes after Israeli minister Benny Gantz announced his resignation from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s emergency government on Sunday, withdrawing the only centrist power in the embattled leader’s otherwise far-right coalition during the war in Gaza.

Blinken is expected to meet with Gantz on Tuesday, a senior State Department official said.

The departure of Gantz’s centrist party will not pose an immediate threat to the government. But it could have a serious impact nonetheless, leaving Netanyahu reliant on hardliners, with no end in sight to the war and a possible escalation in fighting with Lebanese Hezbollah.

Blinken has previously met with Gantz in visits to Israel.

Benny Gantz
Israeli minister Benny Gantz quit Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s emergency government. (AP PHOTO)

The conflict between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah is dangerously poised after more than eight months of fighting triggered by the Gaza war, with hostilities escalating and both sides signalling a readiness for a bigger confrontation.

Blinken during this week’s trip will discuss with partners the need to reach a ceasefire agreement that secures the release of all hostages, as well as the need to prevent the conflict from escalating further, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement on Friday.

He will emphasise the importance of Hamas accepting the proposal on the table, Miller added.

Ceasefire talks have intensified since Biden’s speech and CIA director William Burns met senior officials from mediators Qatar and Egypt on Wednesday in Doha to discuss the plan.

Biden has repeatedly declared that ceasefires were close over the past several months, but there has been only one, week-long truce, in November.