US Secretary of State Antony Blinken returned to Israel Monday following talks with Arab officials, as diplomatic efforts intensify to avert a wider Middle East conflict.
(Bloomberg) — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken returned to Israel Monday following talks with Arab officials, as diplomatic efforts intensify to avert a wider Middle East conflict.
President Joe Biden is weighing visiting Israel himself and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is expected to arrive Tuesday, according to Bild Zeitung. Jordan’s King Abdullah II is in Rome, where he’s expected to meet Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni as part of an effort to ease tensions.
Israel has said it’s preparing for a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip to “wipe out” Hamas after the Iran-backed militant group launched an unprecedented Oct. 7 attack, killing 1,300 people and kidnapping scores more.
Israel has since imposed a siege on the Hamas-ruled enclave and launched thousands of air strikes. Palestinian health officials say more than 2,650 people in Gaza have been killed and UN officials have warned of a humanitarian crisis.
Repeated rocket attacks by Lebanon’s Hezbollah, another Iran-sponsored group, over the past week have raised the prospect that the war will spread to Israel’s northern border.
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Blinken will brief senior Israeli leaders on Monday afternoon about what he’s heard from regional leaders following a whirlwind tour of six Arab states. In the past four days, Blinken touched down in Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
“I want an opportunity to share everything that I’ve heard, that I’ve learned over the last few days visiting with our other partners and to talk about the way forward with our Israeli allies and friends,” Blinken told reporters on the tarmac in Cairo before flying back to Jordan on Sunday.
“What I’ve heard from virtually every partner was a determination,” he said. “A shared view that we have to do everything possible to make sure this doesn’t spread to other places, a shared view to safeguard innocent lives, a shared view to get assistance to Palestinians in Gaza who need it, and we’re working very much on that.”
Blinken has engaged with Israeli officials on the assistance they need for the war and on efforts to free American hostages taken by Hamas, which is designated a terrorist group by the US and European Union.
He’s also lobbying Arab states to use their influence to secure the release of hostages and discourage Hezbollah from opening up a second front. Hezbollah has warned that it was prepared to act “when the time comes.”
The top US diplomat is also trying to coordinate so-called safe zones for Palestinian civilians fleeing Israeli bombardment.
–With assistance from John Follain and Angela Cullen.
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