March 21, 2024 Israel-Hamas war

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press conference in Cairo, Egypt, on Thursday, March 21. Evelyn Hockstein/Pool/Reuters

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the “gaps are narrowing” between Israel and Hamas to get a temporary ceasefire in exchange for the release of hostages, but conceded that “there’s still real challenges.”

“We’ve been working, as you know, with Egypt, with Qatar and with Israel to put a strong proposal on the table. Hamas responded to that,” Blinken said during news conference in Cairo, Egypt, with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

Blinken said he still believes a deal is possible, despite “difficult work to get there.”

“The teams are working every single day on this,” he said. “There’s still real challenges. We’ve closed the gaps but there are still gaps.”

As Israel prepares for a possible operation in the Rafah region of Gaza, Blinken said the US believes Hamas “can be effectively dealt with without a major ground operation in Rafah.” He said a ground operation would “be a mistake,” and officials will outline alternative plans when an Israeli delegation goes to Washington, DC, next week.

Meanwhile, Shoukry said he and Blinken agreed to plan “concrete steps” to increase humanitarian aid in Gaza.

The minister stated that the US and Egypt are aligned in their “total rejection of military operations in Rafah.”

The minister added that Egypt would do “whatever is possible, whatever is required to facilitate a cessation of hostilities and an end to the military activity.” 

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