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WASHINGTON: A US envoy will seek to advance a hostage deal and press for assurances from Israel on a Rafah offensive in a trip this week, the White House said Tuesday.

Brett McGurk, the White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, will hold talks Tuesday in Egypt and Wednesday in Israel, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

The trip comes after Qatar and Egypt mediated a proposal to free hostages seized during the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel in return for a pause in Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip, ruled by the Palestinian group.

McGurk will hold talks “to see if we can’t get this hostage deal in place,” Kirby told reporters.

Israel has rebuffed repeated calls to spare Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city where some 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering, many in makeshift tents.

McGurk will reiterate President Joe Biden’s concern about an operation in Rafah without protections for civilians, Kirby said.

Hamas says Gaza hostages ‘struggling to stay alive’

“Under the current circumstances, without properly accounting for the safety and security of those refugees, we continue to believe that an operation in Rafah would be a disaster,” Kirby said.

Kirby cited McGurk’s travel as he defended the latest US veto of a UN Security Council resolution that would have called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza – a stance rejected by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I think most of the people around the world would love to see those hostages home with their families. And if we just voted, went along, with this resolution, the chances of doing that would be greatly reduced,” Kirby said.

The war started when Hamas launched its unprecedented attack on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli figures.

Hamas also took about 250 hostages – 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 30 presumed dead, according to Israel.

Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed more than 29,195 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest count by the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

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