US top diplomat Antony Blinken urged Hamas on Wednesday to accept a Gaza truce plan, despite an Israeli warning that the army will keep fighting the Palestinian militant group after any ceasefire.

“Hamas needs to say yes and needs to get this done,” said Blinken, who was in Israel on his seventh Middle East crisis tour since the war broke out in October.

He later added: “If Hamas actually purports to care about the Palestinian people and wants to see an immediate alleviation of their suffering, it should take this deal.”

A Hamas official said the Islamist group would respond “within a very short period” to a plan proposed by mediators to halt the fighting for 40 days and to exchange dozens of hostages for many more Palestinian prisoners.

But the group’s aim remains an “end to this war”, senior Hamas official Suhail al-Hindi told AFP — a goal at odds with the stated position of Israel’s hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The premier on Tuesday repeated his vow to send Israeli ground forces into Gaza’s far-southern city of Rafah, despite major concerns over the fate of some 1.5 million civilians sheltering there.

Blinken said Wednesday that he again made clear to Israeli leaders Washington’s opposition to a major attack on Rafah.

‘Sustainable Calm’

Talks on a potential truce and hostage release deal to pause the bloodiest ever Gaza war have been held in Cairo, involving US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators.

An Israeli official told AFP the government would wait for an answer from Hamas until Wednesday night before it decides whether to send its envoys back to the indirect talks in Egypt’s capital.

Hindi, speaking by phone from an undisclosed location, said there is “great interest from Hamas and all Palestinian resistance factions to end this insane war on the Palestinian people, which has consumed everything”.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry called on all sides to “show the necessary flexibility” to achieve a deal “that stops the bloodshed of Palestinians”, during a visit to Cairo by his French counterpart Stéphane Séjourné.

A source with knowledge of the negotiations said Israel’s proposal contained “real concessions” including a period of “sustainable calm” following an initial pause in fighting.


Shaun Tandon and Nina Larson with AFP