US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Israel on Monday to promote a Gaza truce and hostage release plan as Israeli bombardment again rocked the Palestinian territory.

After a stop in Egypt to meet President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo on Monday, Blinken arrived in Israel for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This comes amid the start of a regional tour to push for a much awaited Gaza ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

But Israeli politics and silence from Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, at war with Israel for eight months, raised questions as to whether Blinken can succeed.

In closed-door talks also attended by Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel, Sisi and Blinken discussed “joint efforts to reach a ceasefire and hostage-prisoner exchange” deal, according to a statement from the presidency.

Egypt, the first Arab state to recognize Israel and sign a peace treaty with it in 1979, has, along with the US and Qatar, been engaged in mediation efforts between Hamas and Israel that have repeatedly floundered.

Speaking to reporters before leaving Cairo for his next stop in Jerusalem, Blinken said he had a “very good exchange” with Sisi, adding that regional leaders should “press Hamas” to agree to the truce proposal.

The two had also been expected to discuss plans to reopen the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza. The crossing is a key conduit for aid into the besieged territory, which has been closed for a month since Israeli troops seized its Palestinian side.

“Deal or no deal, it remains absolutely essential that we get more aid to Palestinians who need it,” Blinken told reporters.

The top US diplomat’s eighth visit to the region since war broke out in early October is intended to gather support for a ceasefire proposal announced on May 31 by US President Joe Biden.

Under the latest proposal, Israel would withdraw from Gaza population centers and Hamas would free hostages as fighting halts for an initial six weeks, with the truce extended as negotiators seek a permanent end to hostilities.

Hamas has not formally responded to the plan.

Blinken said on Monday that his message to regional governments was that “if you want a ceasefire, press Hamas to say yes” to the proposal.

After Israel, Blinken will head to Jordan and Qatar for further talks.

With AFP