Biden and Netanyahu discuss possible ceasefire and hostage deal

President Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday to discuss prospects for a possible cease-fire agreement to secure the release of some of the remaining hostages held after the Oct. 7 Hamas-led terror attack, officials said. officials.

Biden’s call to the prime minister came just hours after Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken left Washington on his latest trip to the Middle East. Blinken will start in Saudi Arabia, where he will meet with Egyptian and Qatari officials who have brokered Hamas in cease-fire and hostage talks, which have stalled in recent weeks.

Blinken is expected to visit Israel while in the region this week, although the State Department has not announced an itinerary beyond his stop in Riyadh, where he will attend a three-day meeting of the World Economic Forum. The secretary was instrumental in the Biden administration’s efforts to broker a cessation of the war, increase humanitarian aid and secure the release of more than 100 hostages believed to remain in Gaza.

The call also came three weeks after Biden told Netanyahu he would reconsider his support for Israel’s war unless the country did more to facilitate the delivery of food and other supplies to Gaza and limit casualties civilians. Since then, humanitarian aid to Gaza has increased substantially, and Biden’s advisers credit Israel for responding to the president’s requests, even as U.S. officials acknowledge that the aid is still not enough.

Israel has withdrawn some of its forces from southern Gaza but says it is still planning a major assault on the southern city of Rafah, where about a million Palestinians have taken refuge. Biden administration officials have expressed concern about the possible operation, and Israeli officials have said they will consider that feedback and consult further with American counterparts.

Under the US-sponsored ceasefire proposal, Israel would suspend hostilities for six weeks and release hundreds of Palestinians held in its prisons in exchange for the release of 40 hostages held by Hamas, mostly women, elderly men and people with health problems . Subsequent stages of the agreement would then extend the ceasefire and lead to the release of more hosts.