Israel-Hamas war latest: Blinken back in Middle East today – with two clear objectives – Sky News

Joe Biden has urged Hamas to “prove” it wants an immediate ceasefire after the UN Security Council approved his three-phase plan. Meanwhile, four Israeli soldiers have been killed in an explosion in southern Gaza.
Tuesday 11 June 2024 11:54, UK
The Israel Defence Forces claims to have destroyed an explosives laboratory, killing what it called a “terrorist”, and arresting eight more during an 18-hour operation in eastern Lebanon.
In an update shared on X, the IDF says both it and the Israel Security Agency, known as Shin Bet, located and destroyed the lab in the Beqaa Valley, which housed more than 80 charges and additional explosive barrels.
Additional weapons were found and confiscated inside a “suspicious vehicle,” the post says.
Although the IDF did not reveal the identities or affiliation of the so-called terrorists, it has traded near-daily fire with Hezbollah almost daily across the border into Lebanon.
The Iran-backed Hezbollah group has attacked military positions in northern Israel regularly since the Hamas attack on 7 October.
The group is designated as a terrorist organisation by Western states, Israel, Gulf Arab counties and the Arab League.
A three-phase ceasefire proposal that would end the fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has been accepted by the UN Security Council.
Fourteen of the 15 council members voted in favour of the US-drafted resolution, with only Russia abstaining. 
The ceasefire proposal urges both parties to fully implement the terms of the resolution “without delay and without condition.”
But what do those phases entail and what have both Israel and Hamas said about the plan since its adoption? 
First phase
US President Joe Biden outlined the proposal’s three phases during an address at the White House on 31 May.
The first phase would be a “full and complete ceasefire” lasting six weeks that would see Israeli forces withdraw from all densely populated areas of Gaza.
During this time, Hamas would release an unspecified number of hostages, including women, the elderly and the wounded, in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.
Humanitarian assistance would be allowed to flow freely, with 600 trucks being allowed into Gaza each day as Palestinian civilians return to their homes and neighbourhoods.
Mr Biden said Israel and Hamas would negotiate a permanent end to the fighting while this ceasefire was in place. If the negotiations were to take longer than six weeks, the ceasefire would continue for as long as it takes to strike a deal, he added.
Second phase
Mr Biden described this as a “permanent end to hostilities”.
It would include the release of all remaining living Israeli hostages, including male soldiers, and Israel would withdraw all its forces from Gaza.
The president admitted there were “a number of details to negotiate to move from phase one to phase two”.
Third phase
The final phase calls for the start of a major reconstruction of Gaza, which faces decades of rebuilding from devastation caused by the war.
Any final remains of hostages who have been killed would be returned to their families.
What has Israel said?
Israel’s government has always maintained its objective in the Gaza offensive is to annihilate Hamas in response to the 7 October attacks. 
Israel’s representative to the UN, senior diplomat Reut Shapir Ben-Naftaly, emphasized at the UN Security Council meeting that her country wants to “ensure that Gaza doesn’t pose a threat to Israel in the future.”
She said the war would not end until all hostages were returned and Hamas’ capabilities were “dismantled,” accusing the Palestinian militant group of using “meaningless and endless negotiations which can be exploited by Hamas as a means to stall for time.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he believes there is a “strong consensus” among Israeli leaders to move forward the Gaza ceasefire plan.
What has Hamas said?
Hamas welcomed the adoption of the UN resolution quickly. 
One of its officials, Sami Abu Zuhri, later told Reuters it had accepted the deal and was ready to negotiate the details. 
He said the militant group had accepted the withdrawal of Israeli troops and the swap of hostages for detainees held by Israel. 
But he said it was up to the US to ensure Israel abides by the plan.
“The US administration is facing a real test to carry out its commitments in compelling the occupation to immediately end the war in an implementation of the UN Security Council resolution,” Abu Zuhri said.
A recent hostage rescue operation could show Israel and Hamas have both committed war crimes, the UN human rights office has said.
Israel rescued four captives from the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza on Saturday. 
The Hamas-led health ministry said the mission killed at least 274 Palestinians and injured 400 more.
Israel has acknowledged less than 100 casualties.
Hamas also claimed Netanyahu forces killed three other hostages in the process – an allegation Israel’s military has denied.
The UN human rights office has said the civilian deaths and their holding by the militant group could constitute war crimes. 
“Hundreds of Palestinians, many of them civilians, were reportedly killed and injured,” said spokesperson Jeremy Laurence.
“Furthermore, by holding hostages in such densely populated areas, the armed groups doing so are putting the lives of Palestinian civilians, as well as the hostages themselves, at added risk from the hostilities.
“All these actions, by both parties, may amount to war crimes.” 
Hamas has accepted the ceasefire resolution adopted by the UN Security Council and is ready to negotiate the details, one of the militant group’s officials has told Reuters.
Sami Abu Zuhri said Hamas accepted the withdrawal of Israeli troops and the swap of hostages for detainees held by Israel. 
He added, however, that it was up to the US to ensure Israel abides by the plan.
“The US administration is facing a real test to carry out its commitments in compelling the occupation to immediately end the war in an implementation of the UN Security Council resolution,” Abu Zuhri said.
Shortly after the UN approved the plan, Hamas released an official statement saying it welcomed the support, and it was ready to cooperate with mediators over implementing it. 
Benny Gantz has told Antony Blinken he would back “any responsible plan” that leads to the return of hostages – two days after he quit the Israeli war cabinet over divisions with Benjamin Netanyahu.
In the meeting in Tel Aviv this morning, Mr Gantz urged the US state secretary to apply “maximum pressure” on negotiators. 
He also said “Israel will not hesitate to act decisively” if the threat from militant group Hezbollah at its northern border cannot be removed.
Mr Gantz is a major political rival of Mr Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, but is popular with the US. 
He disagreed with Mr Netanyahu over his post-conflict plans for Gaza and how best to free the hostages still captive, accusing him of pushing strategic considerations like securing a deal aside for his own political survival.
Mr Gantz set a deadline of 8 June last month for Mr Netanyahu to set out how Israel would achieve its six “strategic goals”, including the end of Hamas rule in Gaza.
Mr Blinken also met with Mr Netanyahu and Israel’s defence minister Yoav Gallant to “reiterate the US commitment to the deal on the table”, secure the release of hostages and send humanitarian aid.
Protesters have gathered outside a hotel in Tel Aviv that will host the US secretary of state and other officials for talks today. 
Antony Blinken is on his eighth visit to the region since the outbreak of the war, this time urging Israeli officials to accept and implement a plan for post-war Gaza. 
He’s also been pushing for more international pressure on Hamas to agree to a ceasefire proposal backed by the UN.
The demonstrators also want Israel to follow through with the three-phase plan, endorsed last night by the UN Security Council, to bring home the hostages still stuck in Gaza. 
The Israeli government has been criticised for not doing enough to bring the more than 100 captives still in Gaza home. 
Hamas has said that one of its commanders was among the four fighters killed in a clash with Israeli forces in the West Bank yesterday.

In a statement last night, the militant group said Mohammed Jaber Abdo was killed along with three other fighters in the Kafr Ni’ma area, west of Ramallah.
Abdo had spent 20 years in Israeli prisons, it said.
A joint statement by the Israeli army and police said undercover forces had tracked down a suspect wanted for an attack on a nearby Jewish settlement. 
Providing its account of the operation, Israel’s border police said officers arrived at a building in the area to arrest suspects from an attempted attack.
As they closed in, four suspects tried to escape in a vehicle by running over security officers, so police opened fire and killed them, it said.
The Israel Defence Forces claims to have attacked a military compound belonging to Hezbollah in northern Lebanon. 
Posting online, the IDF described the compound as being a “logistical reinforcement unit” tasked with smuggling weapons in and out of Lebanon.
It said the attacks in Baalbek were carried out in “response to the downing of an IDF drone” yesterday.
The IDF said it also carried out strikes in the Aitaroun area of southern Lebanon, targeting a military site and two military buildings. 
Hezbollah, like Hamas, is a militant group backed by Iran. 
It has engaged in cross-border clashes with Israel since the war in Gaza erupted last year. 
In recent months, attacks have increased, with Hezbollah firing a salvo of rockets at a military command centre in northern Israel over the weekend.
US President Joe Biden has called on Hamas to prove it wants an end to the fighting in Gaza by accepting the ceasefire deal that was passed by the UN Security Council yesterday. 
“The UN Security Council just adopted our resolution calling on Hamas to accept the deal to establish a ceasefire with the release of hostages,” Mr Biden wrote on X. 
“Hamas says it wants a ceasefire. This deal is an opportunity to prove they mean it.”
Hamas released a statement welcoming the UN resolution shortly after it passed, saying it was ready to cooperate with mediators over implementing the plan’s principles.
The deal – outlined by Mr Biden at the end of May – would happen in three phases.
The first phase of the deal would be a six-week ceasefire, the second the return of remaining hostages from Gaza, and the third, and final, a reconstruction plan for Gaza.
It passed with 14 votes in favour and only Russia abstaining from the vote. 
Four Israeli soldiers have been killed in an explosion in southern Gaza, the military has said. 
Army Radio reported they were killed in an explosion set off in a building in the Shabura neighbourhood of Rafah.
The Israel Defence Forces identified the men as Major Tal Peschilski (Shaolov), Sergeant Eitan Carlsbron, Sergeant Almog Shalom and Sergeant Yair Levin.
It said an officer and four soldiers in training were also injured in the blast.
Former prime minister of Israel Naftali Bennett shared a tribute to the fighters on X, saying: “The heart is torn by the loss, the life that will no longer be. May their memory be blessed.” 
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