Blinken pushes ceasefire as Gaza conflict intensifies

Local Druze men watch the flames burning a field after rockets launched from southern Lebanon landed on the Banias area in the Israel-annexed Golan Heights on June 9, 2024. Photo: AFP

Intense fighting continued in Gaza on Tuesday while U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken promoted a ceasefire plan and Jordan convened an emergency summit to address the humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territory.

On his eighth Middle East tour since the October 7 Hamas attack, Blinken urged the Palestinian militant group to accept a truce and release hostages. Visiting Israel, Blinken stated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had “reaffirmed his commitment” to the proposed six-week cessation of hostilities, backed by a UN Security Council vote. “Everyone has said yes, except for Hamas,” Blinken remarked. “And if Hamas doesn’t say yes, then this is clearly on them.”

Blinken then traveled to Jordan for an emergency summit on Gaza, attended by leaders from the Arab world and beyond, aiming to address the territory’s dire humanitarian situation. Gaza’s 2.4 million residents face severe shortages of food, clean water, medicines, and fuel, with only sporadic aid shipments providing temporary relief.

“The horror must stop,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the conference, supporting the truce plan proposed by U.S. President Joe Biden. Guterres described the scale of the carnage in Gaza as unprecedented in his tenure. UN humanitarian coordinator Martin Griffiths called the conflict a “stain on our humanity” and requested $2.5 billion in funding through the end of the year.

Despite diplomatic efforts, Israel conducted more strikes on Gaza, causing further casualties according to hospital sources. The Israeli army reported four soldiers killed in Rafah on Monday by a Hamas booby-trap explosion.

Israel has faced increasing international criticism over the rising death toll. Health officials in Gaza reported 274 deaths in an Israeli special forces raid on Saturday to rescue four hostages. The UN human rights office expressed deep concern over civilian casualties in Nuseirat and the ongoing hostage situation in Gaza.

On Monday, the UN Security Council endorsed a U.S.-drafted ceasefire plan, urging Hamas to accept it. While Hamas welcomed aspects of the resolution, it insisted on a permanent ceasefire, contrasting with Netanyahu’s focus on hostage returns and dismantling Hamas.

Netanyahu faced a setback when Benny Gantz, a centrist former army chief, left the war cabinet over the lack of a post-war governance plan for Gaza. Blinken also met with Gantz and opposition leader Yair Lapid, who have criticized Netanyahu’s handling of the conflict.

Washington has promoted a “day-after” plan for Gaza, advocating for a governance role for the Palestinian Authority and steps toward a two-state solution. Netanyahu and his coalition partners oppose Palestinian statehood, citing security concerns.

The conflict began after Hamas’s October 7 attack, resulting in 1,194 Israeli deaths and 251 hostages taken. The Israeli army’s offensive has since killed at least 37,164 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry. Israel has lost 298 soldiers since the ground offensive began on October 27.

In Jabaliya, resident Soad al-Qanou reported her child Amjad suffering from malnutrition due to inadequate aid. “This war has destroyed our lives,” she said. “There is no food, no drink. There is siege and destruction everywhere.”

At the Jordan summit, the U.S. pledged $404 million in aid, Spain announced $17 million, and Indonesia offered medical support and evacuation assistance. Blinken criticized those providing little to no aid despite expressing concern for Gaza, implicitly referring to China and Russia. “It is time for everyone — everyone — to step up,” he asserted.

The U.S. remains the largest donor to the Palestinians and provides Israel with $3.8 billion annually in military aid.