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Hamas ‘only thing’ standing in the way of a ceasefire agreement: the US

Hamas is the only thing standing in the way of a ceasefire, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last night as a delegation of the Palestinian militants was expected to arrive in Cairo this morning to resume talks.

Reports suggest an agreement could be reached in the coming hours, amid a flurry of diplomatic activity.

“We’re waiting to see if they can actually accept a yes in response to the ceasefire and the release of hostages,” Blinken said late Friday at the McCain Institute’s Sedona Forum in Arizona. “The reality right now is that the only thing standing between the people of Gaza and a ceasefire is Hamas.”

“Concluding a ceasefire should be a no-brainer,” he added, but said the “ultimate decision makers” are members of the group in Gaza, with whom the mediators have no direct contact.

Hamas and CIA officials will meet with Egyptian mediators on Saturday as foreign negotiators await a response from Hamas on the latest proposal to halt fighting for 40 days and exchange hostages for Palestinian prisoners.

Israel’s Channel 12 quoted an unnamed Hamas source as saying the group will soon announce acceptance of the first phase of the deal, following US assurances that Israel will withdraw from Gaza after 124 days, when all three phases of the agreement have been completed. The US guarantee was reportedly passed through Egyptian and Qatari mediators last night during an 11-hour meeting, which was also reported by the Saudi newspaper Al Sharq.

Negotiations have reportedly stalled recently over Hamas’s demand that the Israeli army withdraw completely from Gaza at the end of what Israel wants to be only a temporary lull in the fighting so it can fight the remaining Hamas battalions in Rafah.

The World Health Organization warned last night that if Israel were to launch an offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which the US and other allies widely fear, it would be a “massacre”.

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