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Middle East crisis: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken escalates demand for ceasefire

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that it is “clear that Israel cannot occupy Gaza”, and “there may be a need for some transition period at the end of the conflict” between Israel and Hamas.

The top US diplomat’s escalation of the US demand for a temporary truce and a “No” to occupation of Gaza came through his words “transition period” in response to comments from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who earlier this week said Israel will have the “overall security responsibility” in Gaza for an “indefinite period” after the war with Hamas ends, media reports said.

“It is imperative that Palestinian people be central to the governance in Gaza, and in the West Bank as well, and that again, we don’t see a re-occupation,” Blinken said at a news conference following the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting in Tokyo.

Blinken also said he heard from Israeli officials that “they have no intent to reoccupy Gaza and retain control of Gaza”. 

In what is being construed as rebuttal to Netanyahu’s comments, Blinken laid out in clear terms the US’ terms for “durable peace and security” in Gaza after the war. 

Blinken stressed that this territory must not be reduced or occupied.

“The only question is, is there some transition period that might be necessary? And what might be the mechanisms that you could put in place for that to make sure that there is security. But we’re very clear on no reoccupation, just as we’re very clear on no displacement of the Palestinian population,” Blinken was quoted by the CNN as saying.

“As we’ve said before, we need to see and get to, in effect, unity of governance when it comes to Gaza and the West Bank, and ultimately to a Palestinian state,” Blinken said.

Meanwhile, Israel said its forces were at the “heart of Gaza City” targeting Hamas infrastructure and commanders. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was “advancing the pressure applied on Hamas every hour and every day”.

But it is unclear where Israel is operating from inside Gaza City, which lies to the north of Gaza Strip. 

Israel opened another temporary evacuation corridor on Wednesday for people in Gaza to move south, the destination for all those who fled. 

As civilian casualties mount, G7 ministers voiced support for humanitarian pauses in the fighting but stopped short of calling for a ceasefire. Israel has ruled out humanitarian pauses without the release of hostages.

The White House maintained it doesn’t believe Israeli forces should reoccupy Gaza after Netanyahu said Israel will have the “overall security responsibility” for the strip for an “indefinite period.” A top Netanyahu aide said Israel’s post-war plan is not an “ongoing occupation”.

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