Blinken to visit Israel, West Bank, UAE this week to continue Gaza diplomacy

By Humeyra Pamuk

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Israel, the West Bank and the United Arab Emirates this week, the U.S. State Department said on Monday, as Washington aims to press for more humanitarian aid for Gaza and help secure the release of all hostages kidnapped by Hamas.

Blinken will travel to Belgium, North Macedonia, Israel, the West Bank, and the UAE from Monday to Saturday, the department said in a statement.

“In Israel and the West Bank, Secretary Blinken will discuss Israel’s right to defend itself consistent with international humanitarian law, as well as continued efforts to secure the release of remaining hostages, protect civilian life during Israel’s operations in Gaza, and accelerate humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza,” the department added.

Blinken will discuss what Washington wants to see in Gaza if Israel is able to eliminate Hamas, a State Department official said earlier. Blinken will also discuss the need for an independent Palestinian state as well as attend the UN COP28 climate summit in Dubai, according to the State Department.

It will be his third trip to the region since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants attacked Israel, killed more than 1,200 people and took 240 hostages.

In response, Israel has bombarded the Gaza Strip, a densely populated coastal enclave that is home to 2.3 million people, and mounted a ground offensive in the north, killing more than 15,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities.

Some hostages have been freed in recent days in exchange for Palestinians held by Israel in a deal mediated by Qatar and Egypt and agreed by Israel, Hamas and the United States.

Since the shocking attack that started one of the bloodiest chapters in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Blinken has conducted high-stakes diplomacy with Israeli and Arab leaders to help ensure the conflict does not broaden, hostages are freed and aid is delivered into the Gaza Strip, where a humanitarian disaster has been unfolding.

This week, he will speak about the future of Gaza and the need for a permanent political solution to the long-standing conflict, after he spelled out Washington’s red lines on a visit to Japan earlier this month for how the strip could be governed if Hamas is defeated.

Blinken ruled out Israeli occupation of Gaza, permanent displacement of its people and reduction in its territory, although a clear plan has yet to emerge in talks with Arab states, Israel and Palestinian leaders.

The top U.S. diplomat “will also discuss the principles he outlined in Tokyo on November 8, (and) tangible steps to further the creation of a future Palestinian state,” the State Department said.

Blinken landed on Monday evening in Brussels, where he will attend the NATO foreign ministers summit on Tuesday. He will be attending a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that is scheduled to take place on Wednesday in Skopje.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; additional reporting by Simon Lewis and Kanishka Singh; editing by Cynthia Osterman)