Blinken calls for Israel to avoid civilian harm as he seeks ‘way forward’

By Simon Lewis and Dan Williams

TEL AVIV (Reuters) -U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday urged Israel’s leaders to avoid civilian harm in the war in Gaza and maintain a path towards the creation of Palestinian state, at meetings with Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet.

Blinken, who toured Israel’s Arab neighbours for talks on plans for the future governance of Gaza and integration in the Middle East, said earlier he would be discussing the “way forward” in the war during the meetings.

Blinken met one-on-one with Netanyahu at Tel Aviv’s Kirya military base and then with the war cabinet formed in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks by Palestinian Hamas militants that Israel says killed 1,200 people.

Israel launched an air and ground assault on the enclave of Gaza in response that has killed more than 23,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Repeating the Biden administration’s support for Israel’s right to prevent a repeat of the attacks, Blinken “stressed the importance of avoiding further civilian harm and protecting civilian infrastructure in Gaza,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement.

As well as trying to tamp down regional tensions, the U.S. top diplomat has been discussing plans for the future governance of Gaza, which could involve Israel’s Muslim-majority neighbours.

Blinken said on Monday in Saudi Arabia before that regional states wanted integration with Israel but only if plans to normalize relations included a “practical pathway” to a future Palestinian state.

Blinken earlier met Israel’s President Isaac Herzog and Foreign Minister Israel Katz. He told Katz there were opportunities for regional integration and connectivity “but we have to get through this very challenging moment”.

In the meetings with Netanyahu, Blinken “reiterated the need to ensure lasting, sustainable peace for Israel and the region, including by the realization of a Palestinian state,” Miller said.

Blinken was also set to meet with families of hostages taken by Hamas, and discuss the “relentless efforts” to bring them back.

Several dozen protesters gathered outside the hotel where Blinken was having meetings and called for a ceasefire to secure the release of hostages.

Israel says that, of some 240 people seized on Oct. 7, 132 are still being held in Gaza and 25 of them have died in captivity.

(Reporting by Simon Lewis and Dan Williamsediting by Peter Graff)