Blinken leaves door open for side deal with Hamas for US hostages

Secretary of State Antony Blinken refused to say Thursday whether the U.S. could pursue a separate deal with Hamas to free American citizens still held hostage by the organization in Gaza, while negotiations with Israel over a potential cease-fire continue.

Hamas negotiators have accepted only in part a U.S.-led proposal that would see hostages freed and a cease-fire in the ongoing war in Gaza, with some of the group’s demands still unacceptable, according to the Biden administration.

The administration and Israeli leaders have pressed Hamas to fully accept the deal for weeks, and the United Nations endorsed it with a Security Council vote Monday. If that deal falls through, however, U.S. officials have discussed working with Hamas through Qatari negotiators without Israel, NBC News reported.

NBC News’s Savannah Guthrie pressed Blinken about the possibility Thursday, which he brushed off.

“Savannah, when I was in Israel a couple of days ago, I met with the families of the American hostages. There are eight families. I’ve met with them repeatedly,” he said. “President Biden’s met with them. Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser’s met with them.”

“And our commitment, my commitment, my priority, is always going to be on American citizens wherever they’re in harm’s way, if they’re being unjustly detained, if they’re being held hostage, my number one responsibility is to do everything I can do to get them out of harm’s way,” the secretary added.

Guthrie asked again, “Is that a yes?”

“Now, the best way to do that — the best way to do that is through this agreement, that’s the fastest way to do it,” Blinken continued. “If the agreement doesn’t work, we’ll always be looking at what we can do if there’s anything we can do to get our people home.”

Reports indicate Hamas is holding five American citizens among the hostages taken from Israel on Oct. 7, the outset of the Israel-Hamas war. Officials are also hoping to recover the remains of three Americans who were killed on that day but still taken into Gaza.

The unnamed Biden administration officials told NBC News a unilateral deal could be in Hamas’s best interest to put domestic pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he resists negotiations.

Last week, Israeli officials estimated that some 120 hostages are still being held by Hamas and that 43 of them have died in captivity.

Blinken visited the Middle East again earlier this week, further urging Hams to accept the larger cease-fire deal with Israel.

“I know that there are those who are pessimistic about the prospects,” he said Monday in Egypt. “That’s understandable. Hamas continues to show extraordinary cynicism in its actions, a disinterest not only in the well-being and security of Israelis but also Palestinians.”

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