Biden Confers With Netanyahu on a Possible Cease-Fire and Hostage Deal

President Biden spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Sunday to discuss the prospects of a possible cease-fire deal to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas, while repeating his warnings about a new Israeli assault on the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, officials said.

The call was meant to pave the way for Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who left Washington just a few hours earlier on Sunday for his latest trip to the Middle East aimed at scaling back the war in Gaza. Mr. Blinken headed to Saudi Arabia, where he will see Egyptian and Qatari officials who have served as intermediaries with Hamas in the cease-fire and hostage talks, which remain in a stalemate.

The State Department announced while Mr. Blinken was in flight on Sunday that after attending a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Riyadh, he would also stop in Jordan and Israel. The secretary has been a critical player in the Biden administration’s efforts to broker a cessation to the war, increase humanitarian aid and win the release of more than 100 hostages believed to still be in Gaza since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led terrorist attack.

“That’s going to be right at the top of the list for Secretary Blinken, to keep pushing for this temporary cease-fire,” John F. Kirby, a national security spokesman for the White House, said on “This Week” on ABC. “We want it to last for about six weeks. It will allow for all those hostages to get out and, of course, to allow for easier aid access to places in Gaza, particularly up in the north.”

He has also been leading discussions about what comes after the war is over. During his stop in Saudi Arabia, according to a State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Mr. Blinken expects to meet with Arab and European officials in a group to talk about plans for rebuilding Gaza, even though Israel is still carrying out its war there and has not achieved its elusive — and perhaps impossible — goal of fully eradicating Hamas.

An administration official said that about three-quarters of Mr. Biden’s nearly hourlong call to Mr. Netanyahu focused on the possible cease-fire and hostages deal. American officials have said that Israel has accepted the U.S.-drafted plan, and they have placed blame for the failure to reach an agreement squarely on Hamas, which in their description has not been constructive. During the call, the president agreed that the onus remained on Hamas to accept the latest proposal, the official said.

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