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Blinken meets Gantz, Lapid on second day of Israel visit

"The most urgent issue is, of course, to find ways to bring back the hostages. Once that can be done, then peace can be achieved," the secretary said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets Israeli Minister-without-Portfolio Benny Gantz at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, Feb. 8, 2024. Credit: Courtesy.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets Israeli Minister-without-Portfolio Benny Gantz at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, Feb. 8, 2024. Credit: Courtesy.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the war against Hamas and efforts to free the hostages held in Gaza during a meeting with Israeli War Cabinet members Benny Gantz and Gadi Eizenkot in Tel Aviv on Thursday, the second day of his 48-hour visit to the Jewish state.

Gantz and party colleague Eizenkot, both former Israel Defense Forces chiefs of staff, joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national unity government from the opposition following Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre.

In public remarks ahead of the meeting, Blinken said he would bring up “the challenges that we both face, of course a focus on the hostages and the strong desire that we both have to see them return home to their families, the work that’s being done to that end.”

“We are definitely dealing in the serious issues for the security of Israel, for the security of the region,” Gantz replied. “And the most urgent issue is, of course, to find ways to bring back the hostages. Once that can be done, then peace can be achieved.”

In a post on X, Gantz said he expressed “deep personal appreciation” for the Biden administration’s “commitment to Israel’s security and the efforts to return the hostages home.

“To ensure the continued delivery of humanitarian aid into Gaza, an international actor that can deliver the aid without it being cynically intercepted by terrorist Hamas must be identified,” he tweeted.

According to Gantz, “the continued delivery of humanitarian aid cynically intercepted by Hamas enables them to continue governing, harms the civilians of Gaza and only prolongs the suffering and fighting.”

On Tuesday, Gantz suggested that UNRWA should coordinate aid, apparently dismissing mounting evidence of the U.N. agency’s connections to Hamas terror.

The National Unity Party leader said he also brought up normalization with Saudi Arabia, the need for diplomacy with Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border, as well as “the importance of continued American leadership” in countering Iran’s malign activities in the region.

An hour later, Blinken sat down with opposition leader Yair Lapid. The two men discussed developments in the hostage-release talks and attempts to reach a “political settlement” with Hezbollah, Lapid’s office said.

The lawmaker claimed he also encouraged the U.S. to work together with the Jewish state to cut off Hamas’s funding sources.

“Israeli society as a whole is determined to return the hostages home and eliminate Hamas. These goals are not conflicting, and we will not give up on either,” tweeted Lapid following the meeting.

Washington’s top diplomat told Lapid, according to a State Department readout, “As always, I very much appreciate this opportunity to exchange views and perspectives with my friend Yair, both on the situation in Gaza, the regional perspectives, and of course, we’re intensely focused on the hostages and a determination to bring them home to their families.”

Later on Thursday, Blinken was scheduled to meet with diplomats stationed at the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. Blinken was also set to meet with families of hostages, he told journalists on Wednesday.

“I’ve met with families of the hostages multiple times during prior visits, as well as in Washington, and I expect to see them again tomorrow,” said Blinken, whose press conference was delayed for more than two hours as he met privately with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

According to official Israeli figures, 136 hostages remain in the Gaza Strip. At least 31 of them are confirmed dead, most of them killed on Oct. 7. Jerusalem is assessing unconfirmed information indicating that another 20 additional captives have also been killed.

“We had an opportunity today to discuss with the Israeli government the response that Hamas sent last night,” Blinken stated on Wednesday following meetings with Netanyahu, Gallant, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi and other officials.

While there are some “clear non-starters” in Hamas’s response to the renewed hostages-for-ceasefire framework proposed by mediators, it “creates space for an agreement to be reached,” he added.

The American diplomat touched down in Tel Aviv overnight on Tuesday for his seventh visit to the region since Hamas’s massacre of some 1,200 people in the northwestern Negev. Before arriving in the Jewish state, Blinken visited Qatar, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

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