TEL AVIV (AFP) - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday discussed ways to secure the release of Gaza hostages with moderates in the Israeli war cabinet a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Hamas demands.
Blinken met in Tel Aviv with Benny Gantz and Gabi Eisenkot, two former military chiefs who joined Netanyahu's war cabinet after the October 7 attack in Israel by Hamas fighters.
The talks will focus on "the hostages and the strong desire that we both have to see them returned to their families, the work that's being done to that end," Blinken said as they opened the meeting.
"The most urgent issue is of course to find ways to bring back the hostages," Gantz told Blinken. "That being done, many things can be achieved," he said. Blinken has shuttled around the Middle East on his fifth tour since the war between Israel and Hamas began, and brought to Israel a response via Qatar from Hamas to a hostage deal.
Netanyahu on Wednesday rejected Hamas's demands for a ceasefire as part of the deal and vowed to expand military operations to the overcrowded southern Gaza city of Rafah. But Blinken said he still saw space for negotiations to improve on the deal and secure the hostages' release.
Egypt and Qatar were holding a new round of talks Thursday in Cairo with Hamas. Blinken also discussed on Thursday the hostage talks in a meeting with Israel's main opposition leader Yair Lapid.
"It's good to see how committed this group is to the hostages, to solving the situation, to figure out ways to promote peace," the centrist former prime minister said, referring to efforts by Blinken and US officials.
The war in Gaza was triggered by Hamas's unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas in response and launched air strikes and a ground offensive that have killed at least 27,840 people, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry. Militants also seized around 250 hostages on October 7. Israel says 132 remain in Gaza, of whom 29 are believed to have died.