Protesters in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem demand release of captives

Blinken lands in Israel for talks with Netanyahu, Gallant amid push for hostage deal

Top diplomat set to inspect aid flowing to Gaza from Ashdod Port and Kerem Shalom Crossing, will meet with families of American hostages; hostage forum demands to see PM

File - US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken disembarks after landing in Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, April 30, 2024. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)
File - US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken disembarks after landing in Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, April 30, 2024. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Israel on Tuesday for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials following visits to Jordan and Saudi Arabia, his seventh trip to the region since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, as efforts intensified to reach a hostage deal and truce.

Blinken will first meet President Isaac Herzog on Wednesday at 8:15 a.m. in Tel Aviv, the President’s office announced, while Netanyahu will meet with Blinken at 10:45 a.m. in Jerusalem, the Prime Minister’s Office said.

The top US diplomat is also set to meet Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi, visit the Kerem Shalom Crossing and Ashdod Port in the afternoon to examine humanitarian aid flowing through to Gaza, and meet with families of American hostages in Tel Aviv.

The latest offer for a hostage deal being negotiated in Cairo reportedly includes a 40-day pause in fighting and the release of almost 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for between 20-33 hostages. The numbers relate to hostages in a so-called humanitarian category — women, children, men over 50 and those who are sick.

Washington has intensified its pressure on all sides to reach a deal — a message pushed by Blinken during his tour.

“Now it’s on Hamas,” Blinken told reporters in Jordan. “No more delays, no more excuses… We want to see in the coming days this agreement coming together.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the press in front of a truck with humanitarian aid bound for Gaza at the Jordanian Hashemite Charity Organisation in Amman on April 30, 2024. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool/AFP)

A truce is “the most effective way to relieve the suffering” of civilians in the besieged Gaza Strip, he told reporters near Amman.

Blinken saw off a first Jordanian truck convoy of aid heading to Gaza through the Erez Crossing reopened by Israel, and urged a redoubling of the aid efforts.

“It is real and important progress, but more still needs to be done,” he said.

US President Joe Biden warned Israel that future US support was at stake after an April 1 Israeli strike killed seven aid workers from World Central Kitchen, the charity founded by celebrity Spanish-American chef Jose Andres.

The US said that Israel has taken steps to avoid such deaths in the future, including coordinating more directly with aid groups working in Gaza.

But the situation remains dire in Gaza, where the vast majority of residents have fled their homes and the United Nations has warned of looming famine.

A US-built floating pier on Gaza’s coast is expected to be completed later this week, said Cyprus, the departure point for the planned “maritime corridor.”

Blinken said the pier would “significantly increase the assistance,” but was not “a substitute” for greater overland access.

A maritime pier being built by the US military off the coast of the Gaza Strip, in an image released on April 29, 2024. (CENTCOM)

Hostage forum calls for emergency meeting with PM

Separately Tuesday, following a meeting between Netanyahu and the hawkish Gvura and Tikva forums, which represent families of some slain soldiers and some hostages, respectively, the Hostages and Missing Families Forum demanded he hold a similar meeting with the families it represents as soon as possible.

“The Forum demands an urgent meeting between representatives of the hostages’ families and the Prime Minister, to be held as early as tomorrow,” a statement from the organization read. “Their demand is to advance the proposed deal expected to secure the return of all hostages – the living for rehabilitation and the deceased for burial,” the statement added.

“We did not celebrate Passover. Our loved ones remained captives of Hamas. We ourselves are held captive by Hamas and the Israeli government,” the family members of the hostages said. “In less than two weeks, we are supposed to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day – the independence of the state, its revival and the citizens’ faith in it – all of which are dependent on your decision.”

Families of hostages and their supporters assembled outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv Tuesday evening to demand that the government agree to a deal, even as Netanyahu’s far-right allies warned against accepting the current outline negotiated in Cairo.

The demonstrators counted to 207 to mark the days that the hostages have been held in captivity following the October 7 Hamas massacre in southern Israel.

As the demonstration swelled in size, protesters blocked Begin Road outside the Kirya.

Protesters block Begin Road in front of the Kirya IDF Military Headquarters in Tel Aviv, urging a deal for the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, April 30, 2024. (Danor Aharon/Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)

A rally was also held in the center of Jerusalem marking 207 days of captivity, with protesters emphasizing that ministers were responsible for the hostages’ release.

It is believed that 129 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that. Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 12 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

The Israel Defense Forces has confirmed the deaths of 34 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

One more person has been listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

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