Blinken says Gaza hostage deal still possible but ‘very hard’ issues remain

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday that a deal on the release of hostages held by Hamas remains possible but “very hard” issues remain to be resolved.

Talks involving intelligence chiefs from the US, Egypt and Israel and the Qatari prime minister on a deal that would see a pause in Israel’s four-month-old war in Gaza ended without a breakthrough on Tuesday.

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Asked whether an agreement could be reached on a break in hostilities before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins on March 10, Blinken said an earlier response from Hamas on a potential deal had included some “clear non-starters” but offered the possibility of working toward an agreement.

“We’re now in the process with our counterparts from Qatar, from Egypt, from Israel, in working on that and working very intensely on that with the goal of trying to find an agreement and I believe that it is possible,” Blinken said at a news conference during a visit to Albania.

“There are some very, very hard issues that have to be resolved. But we’re committed to doing everything we can to move forward and to see if we can reach an agreement,” Blinken said.

The Israelis rejected Hamas’ proposals for the releases of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel in return for the freeing of hostages, said two sources familiar with the discussions. The Israelis “did not like the ratio (of prisoners to hostages) they were proposing,” said one of the sources.

The timing for a pause in fighting was another source of disagreement, with Hamas wanting to implement a pause sooner and Israel wanting a later date, said the sources.

CIA director Bill Burns was in Israel on Thursday for further talks, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

The CIA declined to comment.

Blinken also called for Israel to investigate reports that its forces killed a Palestinian American teenager in the occupied West Bank on Feb. 10, the second such death in recent weeks.

Asked about the death of 17-year-old Mohammad Ahmed Mohammad Khdour, -- which came after the Jan. 19 killing of Tawfic Abdel Jabbar, also 17, that Israel has pledged to investigate -- Blinken offered his condolences, but said privacy laws limited what he could say about the cases.

“We’ve made clear that... there needs to be an investigation. We need to get the facts and, if appropriate, there needs to be accountability,” he said.

Defense for Children International - Palestine, an NGO, said it had gathered evidence that Israeli forces opened fire on a car with Khdour inside. Reuters was unable to independently verify the report.

An Israeli military spokesperson referred Reuters to the Shin Bet internal security service, which did not immediately respond.

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