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Blinken to visit Tel Aviv on Friday to conduct talks on hostage deal, Rafah operation

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Tel Aviv, March 21

US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, will visit Israel on Friday and meet the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior leaders.

Blinken will also be meeting senior Egyptian and Saudi leaders on Thursday in Cairo and Riyadh respectively.

The visit of Blinken, the most powerful leader of the US, to the Middle eastern countries, including Israel, is to communicate to the concerned parties and mediators on the American viewpoint regarding the hostage deal as well as on the probable ground invasion of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in Rafah area.

US President Joe Biden has recently spoken to Netanyahu not to push forward with the Rafah ground operations as it would lead to the death of a large number of Palestinian civilians, including women and children.

An estimated 1.3 million civilian population is living in Rafah area of the Gaza Strip and the idea of Israeli troops is to evacuate the civilian population to the north of Rafah.

However, Egypt has told the Israeli and American authorities of its strict opposition to the Rafah operation since it would lead to a huge refugee exodus to its territory in Sinai region bordering Rafah.

Meanwhile, the indirect mediatory talk between Israel and Hamas is continuing in Doha, Qatar.

Israel is taking a tough stand and not agreeing to many of the demands put forward by Hamas regarding the hostage deal and therefore, the mediatory talks are not progressing smoothly.

Sources in the Israel Defence Ministry told IANS that the talks would progress only on the terms put forward by the Israeli side.

Israel has demanded a two-step release of all the hostages in the custody of Hamas and has told the mediators that Palestinian prisoners kept in Israeli jails charged with heinous crimes cannot be released.

According to sources in Israel Defence Ministry, the Israel intelligence agencies, including the Mossad, Shin Bet and the military intelligence had informed the Israel government that Hamas has completely collapsed and the Rafah area is the key to defeat the remaining resistance of the militant outfit.

It has also reported that Hamas has only four army battalions remaining in the Rafah area and if they are also destroyed, then there was no other option for Hamas but only to surrender to Israel.

The Israel Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant, considered a hawk among the Israeli leadership, has again called on the IDF to look out for Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar and neutralise him.

It remains to be seen how Blinken will be able to prevent an impending ground offensive from a highly confident Israeli army in the Rafah region.

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