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Blinken arrives in Israel at start of Mideast tour to secure Gaza truce and push for aid
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 25 - 05 - 2021

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Israel at the start of a Middle East tour aimed at strengthening last week's ceasefire with Hamas and start an immediate flow of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.
Blinken vowed Tuesday to "rally international support" to aid Gaza following a devastating war, as he began a regional tour to shore up last week's ceasefire.
Blinken, who spoke after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the US would work to address the "grave humanitarian situation" in the coastal territory but would also ensure that Gaza's militant Hamas rulers do not benefit from reconstruction assistance.
The 11-day Gaza war killed more than 250 people, mostly Palestinians, and caused widespread destruction in the impoverished coastal territory. The truce that came into effect Friday has so far held, but it did not address any of the underlying issues.
On his tour of the region, Blinken will face the same obstacles that have stifled a wider peace process for more than a decade, including a hawkish Israeli leadership, Palestinian divisions and deeply rooted tensions surrounding Jerusalem and its holy sites.
Blinken, who landed at Ben Gurion International Airport early Tuesday, is the highest-ranking US official to visit the region since US President Joe Biden assumed office. He was welcomed on the tarmac by Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and other officials.
President Biden announced that he was dispatching Blinken to the region for what will be his administration's highest-level, in-person talks on the crisis that erupted earlier this month.
The White House said later that Biden had spoken to Egypt's president, one of several leaders Blinken will meet on his trip, to underscore the importance of getting assistance to Gaza.
The State Department said Blinken would visit Israel, the West Bank, Jordan and Egypt on a trip that comes as the administration has faced broad criticism for its initial response to the deadly violence.
In a statement, Biden said Blinken would work with regional partners to ensure "the coordinated international effort to ensure immediate assistance reaches Gaza."
Blinken's discussions with Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Jordanian King Abdullah II will focus on shoring up the cease-fire, sending urgent aid to Gaza, ending intra-communal violence in Israeli cities and laying the preliminary groundwork for a return to peace talks, according to a senior State Department official.
The White House said Biden and El-Sisi had spoken on Monday about "the urgent need to deliver humanitarian assistance to those in need in Gaza and to support rebuilding efforts in a manner that benefits the people there and not Hamas."
While Blinken will meet with the leaders of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan, he will not see anyone from the militant Hamas movement that runs Gaza. Hamas is a US-designated "foreign terrorist organization," and contacts between American officials and the group are banned.
The State Department official, who was not authorized to discuss the trip by name and spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity, said Blinken would be looking at how the US can support Israel and the Palestinians in rebuilding, address the underlying causes that led to this crisis and advance equal measures of freedom, security and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians "in tangible ways."
Blinken said Sunday that the behind-the-scenes effort led by Biden paid off, securing a truce after 11 days.
"President Biden leading this effort made the judgment that we could be most effective in doing that. And ultimately, after this intensive effort across the government, we got to where everyone wanted to be, which was to end the violence," he said in an interview with CNN.
"But now, as the president said, I think it's incumbent upon all of us to try to make the turn to start to build something more positive, and what that means at heart is that Palestinians and Israelis alike have to know in their day in and day out lives equal measures of opportunity, of security, of dignity," Blinken said.
He said the time is not right for an immediate resumption in negotiations between the two sides but that steps could be taken — mainly humanitarian initiatives — to repair damage from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, which caused significant damage to civilian infrastructure and deaths.
"I don't think we're in a place where getting to some kind of a negotiation for what ultimately, I think, has to be the result, which is a two-state solution, is the first order of business," he said. "We have to start building back in concrete ways and offering some genuine hope, prospects, opportunity in the lives of people."
Blinken said the administration is now focused on trying to "build something more positive," saying Palestinians and Israelis deserve "equal measures of opportunity, of security, of dignity." — Agencies


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