Blinken says Gaza truce still possible but set back by ICC move

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators hold up painted hands in protest as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee (Jim WATSON)
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators hold up painted hands in protest as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee (Jim WATSON)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that a Gaza ceasefire deal was still possible but he charged that an International Criminal Court arrest bid for Israeli leaders was setting back diplomatic efforts.

Testifying before Congress, Blinken was repeatedly disrupted by protesters critical of US support for Israel. Several were evicted after shouting that he was a "war criminal," but protesters -- many showing symbolically reddened hands --were later allowed to sit silently behind him.

Blinken credited Qatar and Egypt with assisting the "extensive effort" to secure a temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in return for the release of hostages.

But CIA Director Bill Burns, the US point man in the talks, left the region empty-handed some 10 days ago.

"I think we've come very, very close on a couple of occasions," Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the first of four appearances before Congress planned through Wednesday.

"We remain at it every single day. I think that there's still a possibility," Blinken said.

"But it's challenged by a number of events and I have to say, yes the extremely wrongheaded decision by the ICC prosecutor yesterday -- the shameful equivalence implied between Hamas and the leadership of Israel -- I think that only complicates the prospects for getting such an agreement," Blinken said.

Karim Khan, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, on Monday said he had applied for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as Hamas chiefs.

President Joe Biden called the move "outrageous" for putting together Hamas, which attacked Israel on October 7, and Israel, which has carried out a relentless military campaign in Gaza since then.

Republican lawmakers urged Biden to take action against the ICC. Previous president Donald Trump imposed sanctions on an earlier prosecutor, a step reversed by Biden after he took office.

Senator Lindsey Graham pointed to a previous probe by the ICC, of which the United States is not a member, into US military actions in Afghanistan.

"If they'll do this to Israel, where next?" Graham said.

"At the end of the day here, what I hope to happen is that we level sanctions against the ICC for this outrage to not only help our friends in Israel, but protect ourselves over time," he said.

Blinken did not commit to sanctions, saying repeatedly that the Biden administration was looking at an "appropriate response" to the ICC.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin earlier said that the United States would keep cooperating with the ICC on a separate probe into alleged war crimes by Russia in Ukraine.

Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Hamas also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 35,647 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

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