Senior Biden administration officials returning to Middle East to push for Gaza ceasefire deal

Top Biden administration officials are traveling to the Middle East this week to engage in ongoing talks on a possible ceasefire and hostage release deal between Israel and Hamas, as well as the dire situation in the Gazan city of Rafah, US officials told CNN.

CIA Director Bill Burns, who has served as the administration’s primary interlocutor in ceasefire negotiations, is meeting Qatari leaders in Doha to receive an update on their conversations with Hamas leaders, according to national security adviser Jake Sullivan. Qatar is acting as an intermediary in talks between Israel and Hamas.

Sullivan also said that the US remains in hourly contact with the Qataris as they await a formal response from Hamas.

“Now, we are waiting for a response from Hamas,” Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One. “We will regard a formal response as one that gets conveyed to the Qataris, who were the ones who transmitted the proposal from the Israeli negotiators to Hamas.”

Middle East Coordinator Brett McGurk is headed to Cairo this week, according to a source familiar. Egypt, alongside Qatar, has played a significant mediating role in the fraught negotiations.

McGurk’s visit comes as tensions have grown between Egypt and Israel in recent months, particularly as Egypt has repeatedly warned Israeli forces against moving forward with a military operation into Rafah.

Last month, an Egyptian security worker was killed on the border with Gaza in a shooting between Egyptian and Israeli soldiers. The situation at the Rafah border crossing, as well as post-war planning, are also on the agenda for McGurk’s meetings this week with regional leaders, the source said.

McGurk is currently not expected to travel to Israel during this trip.

Although both regularly travel to the Middle East, their visits come amid a furious diplomatic push by President Joe Biden and his administration to get Hamas and Israel to accept the latest ceasefire proposal.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has made a flurry of calls since Biden outlined the proposal in a speech last Friday, discussing the ambitious deal with partners and urging them to pressure Hamas to support it.

The top US diplomat has spoken twice with the Saudi foreign minister, as well as with his counterparts from Jordan, Turkey, Qatar, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Algeria. He also spoke with Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

The United States on Monday circulated a draft UN Security Council resolution to support the proposal and calling for it to insist that Hamas accept the deal.

Biden on Friday laid out a three-phase proposal that would pair a release of hostages with a “full and complete ceasefire,” a plan he said presented the best hope to bring peace to Gaza. The president characterized it as an Israeli proposal.

But less than an hour after Biden detailed the proposal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted Israel will not end the war in Gaza until it had achieved all of its goals, including the destruction of Hamas.

The United States has not seen any response yet from Hamas to the latest ceasefire proposal, a State Department spokesperson said on Tuesday.

“We haven’t seen any response yet from Hamas, but we do think it is important that the international community and, I think quite importantly, countries in the Arab world have spoken out to call on this deal to be finalized and Hamas to accept it,” State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller said at a press briefing.

Hamas released a statement last week saying that it viewed the proposal “positively.” Miller did not know if the proposal itself has reached Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’ leader in Gaza.

Miller also said that the Israeli government has communicated to the US that they are ready to implement the ceasefire deal should Hamas accept.

“It doesn’t mean there aren’t voices inside Israel, and voices even inside the Israeli government are opposed to it, but the government, speaking on behalf of the government, has said they support this proposal and are ready to stand behind that,” Miller said.

This story has been updated with additional details.

CNN’s Michael Conte and Sam Fossum contributed reporting.

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