Israel & Palestine

Antony Blinken arrives in Israel amid fresh US push to stop war spreading

user avatar Author: Editors Desk Source: The Guardian
January 8, 2024 at 20:09
Antony Blinken arrives in Tel Aviv during his week-long trip aimed at calming tensions across the Middle East. Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters
Antony Blinken arrives in Tel Aviv during his week-long trip aimed at calming tensions across the Middle East. Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

US secretary of state poised for meetings with leaders who have so far proved resistant to pressure from Washington

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, has landed in Israel for potentially difficult meetings with Israeli leaders and officials who have repeatedly proved resistant to pressure from Washington over their conduct of the war against Hamas.

Blinken flew late on Monday night from the Saudi oasis town of AlUla where he held talks with the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, on a Middle East tour aimed at reaching a consensus on Gaza’s future.

He said key Arab states and Turkey had agreed to begin planning for the reconstruction and governance of Gaza once Israel’s war against Hamas ended.

The secretary of state said Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey “agreed to work together and to coordinate our efforts to help Gaza stabilise and recover, to chart a political path forward for the Palestinians and to work toward long-term peace, security and stability in the region as a whole”.

He added that the Saudis and other Arab leaders were still interested in pursuing normalisation of relations with Israel but only on the basis of an enduring Israeli-Palestinian political settlement.

“There’s a clear interest in the region in pursuing that but it will require that the conflict end in Gaza and it will also clearly require that there be a practical pathway to a Palestinian state,” Blinken said. “But the interest is there, it’s real, and it could be transformative.”

On his fourth trip to the Middle East in three months, Blinken will try to convince the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to begin serious negotiations on postwar governance in Gaza, to do more to protect civilians in Gaza, and to allow more aid into the territory.

“I will press on the absolute imperative to do more to protect civilians and to do more to make sure that humanitarian assistance is getting into the hands of those who need it,” Blinken said.

He added that the administration was also focused on recovering the remaining American, Israeli and other hostages in Gaza.

The US has offered staunch support to Israel since the outbreak of its war with Hamas three months ago, but Netanyahu has angered Washington by so far refusing to offer any detailed public plans for the governance of Gazawhen Israel’s military offensive ends, and by rejecting the US’s preferred option, the creation of unified Palestinian state comprising of the West Bank and Gaza.

US officials said the Biden administration had drawn up detailed plans for how the transition to such a state might work, but that Netanyahu’s government remained staunchly opposed to such an outcome and was not engaging in meaningful discussions with US officials on Washington’s proposals.

Israel launched its offensive after Hamas sent thousands of militants into the southern part of the country and killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted about 240 others.

Tensions in the region continued to rise on Monday with an Israeli airstrike killing an elite Hezbollah commander in southern Lebanon, the latest in an escalating exchange of strikes along the border that have raised fears of another Middle Eastern war even as the fighting in Gaza exacts a mounting toll on civilians.

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