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Blinken: Some Hamas Proposed Changes OK06/13 06:05

   U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that mediators would 
keep trying to close an elusive cease-fire deal for Gaza after Hamas proposed 
changes to a U.S.-backed plan, some of which he said were "workable" and some 
not.

   BEIRUT (AP) -- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that 
mediators would keep trying to close an elusive cease-fire deal for Gaza after 
Hamas proposed changes to a U.S.-backed plan, some of which he said were 
"workable" and some not.

   The back-and-forth laid bare frustration over the difficulty of reaching an 
accord that could end eight months of war that has decimated the territory, 
killed tens of thousands of Palestinians and left scores of Israeli hostages 
still languishing in militant captivity. Previous moments of optimism have been 
repeatedly dashed by the differences between the two sides.

   The cease-fire proposal has global support but has not been fully embraced 
by Israel or Hamas. Blinken did not spell out what changes Hamas sought, but he 
said the mediators -- Qatar, Egypt and the U.S. -- will keep trying to "close 
this deal." He put the onus on Hamas, accusing it of changing its demands.

   "Hamas has proposed numerous changes to the proposal that was on the table. 
... Some of the changes are workable. Some are not," Blinken told reporters in 
Qatar. "I believe that they (the differences) are bridgeable, but that doesn't 
mean they will be bridged because ultimately Hamas has to decide."

   Blinken's comments came as Lebanon's Hezbollah fired a massive barrage of 
rockets into northern Israel to avenge the killing of a top commander, further 
escalating regional tensions.

   Hezbollah, an Iran-backed ally of Hamas, has traded fire with Israel nearly 
every day since the Israel-Hamas war began and says it will stop only if there 
is a truce in Gaza. That has raised fears of an even more devastating regional 
conflagration.

   Air-raid sirens sounded across northern Israel, and the military said about 
215 projectiles were fired from southern Lebanon, making it one of the largest 
attacks since the fighting began. There were no immediate reports of casualties 
as some rockets were intercepted while others ignited brush fires.

   Hamas asks for changes

   Hamas conveyed its official reply to the proposal to mediators on Tuesday. 
Hamas spokesman Jihad Taha told the Lebanese news outlet ElNashra that the 
"amendments" requested by the group aim to guarantee a permanent cease-fire and 
complete Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza.

   The proposal announced by U.S. President Joe Biden includes those 
provisions, but Hamas has expressed wariness about whether Israel will 
implement the terms. While the U.S. says Israel has accepted the proposal, 
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given conflicting statements, 
saying Israel is still intent on its goal of destroying Hamas.

   Blinken, on his eighth visit to the region since the start of the war, said 
the deal on the table was "virtually identical" to one Hamas put forth on May 
6. The U.N. Security Council voted overwhelmingly in favor of the plan on 
Monday.

   "At some point in a negotiation, and this has gone back and forth for a long 
time, you get to a point where if one side continues to change its demands, 
including making demands and insisting on changes for things that it already 
accepted, you have to question whether they're proceeding in good faith or 
not," he said.

   Speaking alongside Blinken, Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign 
Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani said there had 
been "counterproductive" actions by both sides.

   The proposal's three-phase plan would begin with a six-week cease-fire and 
the release of some hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. Israeli 
forces would withdraw from populated areas, and Palestinian civilians would be 
allowed to return to their homes. Aid distribution would also increase.

   At the same time, negotiations would start over the second phase, which is 
to bring "a permanent end to hostilities" and "full withdrawal" of Israeli 
troops from Gaza in exchange for the release of all remaining hostages.

   Phase three would see the launch of a reconstruction plan for Gaza and the 
return of remains of deceased hostages.

   A major hitch for both sides appears to be the negotiations for the second 
phase.

   Israel's ambassador to the U.N., Gilad Erdan, said Israel will demand that 
Hamas be removed from power as part of any agreement on that phase.

   "One of our conditions is not only the release of the hostages, it's also 
the future of Gaza," Erdan told CNN's "The Source" on Monday. "We cannot agree 
to Hamas continuing to be the rulers of Gaza because then Gaza will continue to 
pose a threat to Israel."

   He also said Israel opposes a provision extending the initial cease-fire as 
long as talks are going on, saying it would allow Hamas to "continue with 
endless and meaningless negotiations."

   Hamas, in turn, appears to want stronger guarantees up front that the talks 
will lead to the permanent cease-fire and withdrawal.

   Netanyahu's far-right coalition allies have rejected the proposal and 
threaten to bring down his government if he ends the war leaving Hamas intact. 
But Netanyahu is also under mounting pressure to accept a deal to bring the 
hostages back. Thousands of Israelis, including families of the hostages, have 
demonstrated in favor of the U.S.-backed plan.

   Israel's bombardment and ground offensives in Gaza have killed over 37,000 
Palestinians, according to Palestinian health officials, who do not give the 
breakdown of civilians and fighters. The war has also driven some 80% of the 
population of 2.3 million from their homes, and Israeli restrictions and 
ongoing fighting have hindered efforts to bring in humanitarian aid, fueling 
widespread hunger.

   Israel launched its campaign after Hamas and other militants stormed into 
Israel on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking 
around 250 hostage. Over 100 hostages were released during a weeklong 
cease-fire last year in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. Hamas 
is believed to be holding around 80 hostages and the remains of another 40.

   Revenge for slain commander

   Netanyahu's office said he was conducting a security assessment in light of 
Hezbollah's barrage in the north and what it called Hamas' "negative response" 
to the proposal.

   Hezbollah said it fired missiles and rockets at two military bases in 
retaliation for the killing of Taleb Sami Abdullah, 55. Known within Hezbollah 
as Hajj Abu Taleb, he is the most senior commander killed since the fighting 
began eight months ago. The Israeli strike late Tuesday destroyed a house where 
Abdullah and three other officials were meeting, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) 
from the border.

   A Hezbollah official told The Associated Press that Abdullah was in charge 
of a large part of the Lebanon-Israel front, including the area facing the 
Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, which Hezbollah has repeatedly attacked in 
recent days, causing fires in the area.

   The official, who was not authorized to speak to media and spoke on 
condition of anonymity, said Abdullah had joined Hezbollah decades ago and took 
part in attacks against Israeli forces during their 18-year occupation of 
southern Lebanon that ended in May 2000.

   Israeli airstrikes on Lebanon have killed over 400 people, most of them 
Hezbollah members, but the dead also include more than 70 civilians and 
noncombatants. On the Israeli side, 15 soldiers and 10 civilians have been 
killed since the war in Gaza began.

   Other groups allied with Iran, including powerful militias in Iraq and 
Syria, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, have also attacked Israeli, U.S. and 
other targets since the start of the war, often drawing Western retaliation. In 
April, Israel and Iran traded fire directly for the first time.

 
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