Blinken carries Arab message to Israel: Keep Palestinian state hope alive

Blinken carries Arab message to Israel: Keep Palestinian state hope alive
Blinken carries Arab message to Israel: Keep Palestinian state hope alive

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets Israel's President Isaac Herzog, during his week-long trip aimed at calming tensions across the Middle East, at David Kempinski Hotel, in Tel Aviv January 9, 2024. — Evelyn Hockstein/Pool/Reuters pic

TEL AVIV, Jan 9 — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on his latest mission to rein in the Gaza war, told Israeli leaders today there was still a chance of winning acceptance from their Arab neighbours, if they create a path to a viable Palestinian state.

On his fourth trip to the region since October in a so far largely fruitless quest to tamp down the violence, Blinken said he would share what he had heard in two days of talks with Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

His talks would include a meeting with the Israeli war cabinet formed in the wake of the October 7 attacks by Palestinian militants from Hamas, which rules Gaza, that Israel says killed 1,200 people.

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The Israeli offensive has killed more than 23,000 Palestinians, destroyed much of Gaza and displaced most of the population of 2.3 million at least once, creating a dramatic and worsening humanitarian crisis.

Blinken had already said he would press Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government on the “absolute imperative” to do more to protect Gaza’s civilians and allow humanitarian aid to reach them. His boss, President Joe Biden, said overnight that Washington was quietly pushing Israel to begin withdrawing some of its forces.

Blinken’s meetings around the region have focused on trying to chart a longer-term approach to the decades-old Israel-Palestinian conflict, as part of a path toward ending the Gaza war. After his meetings with Arab allies, he said they wanted integration with Israel — a long-term Israeli aim — but only if that included a “practical pathway” to a Palestinian state.

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“I know of your own efforts, over many years, to build much greater connectivity and integration in the Middle East, and I think there are actually real opportunities there,” he told his Israeli counterpart Israel Katz today.

“But we have to get through this very challenging moment and ensure that October 7 can never happen again and work to build a much different and much better future.”

Heavy fighting in south Gaza

After weeks of US pressure to tamp down its assault, Israel says its forces are transitioning from full-blown warfare to a more targeted campaign in the northern half of Gaza, while still maintaining intensive combat in southern areas.

It said troops had killed around 40 Palestinian fighters and raided a militant compound and tunnel shafts since Monday during expanded operations in Khan Younis in the south.

The Palestinian health ministry in Gaza said 57 Palestinians killed by Israeli air strikes and 65 wounded had arrived in the past 24 hours at the already badly overstretched Al Aqsa hospital in the centre of the 45 km (28 mile) long Gaza Strip.

The vast humanitarian crisis has put pressure in particular on the United States, Israel’s closest ally, to press for the assault on Gaza to be scaled back.

The UN humanitarian office Ocha said that “as casualties rise, the ability to treat them continues to be in jeopardy”.

It said three hospitals in central Gaza and Khan Younis, including Al Aqsa, were “at risk of closure due to the issuance of evacuation orders in nearby areas and the ongoing conduct of hostilities nearby”.

Biden hears shouts of ‘ceasefire now’

Late yesterday, the medical charity MSF said a shell had broken through the wall of one of its shelters in Khan Younis housing over 100 staff and their families, critically wounding the 5-year-old daughter of an MSF staffer.

Biden, confronted yesterday by protesters shouting “Ceasefire now!” while visiting a church in South Carolina, said he had been “quietly” working to encourage Israel to ease its attacks and “significantly get out of Gaza”.

Israel’s relentless bombardment and its restrictions on humanitarian access to Gaza have prompted South Africa to file a lawsuit in the International Court of Justice, accusing Israel of genocidal actions against Palestinians. Hearings are due to begin on Thursday.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog told Blinken there was “nothing more atrocious and preposterous” than the court case, noting that Israel’s Hamas enemies are sworn to its destruction.

The conflict has spread to Lebanon, where the Hezbollah militia has been firing rockets across the Israeli border in support of Hamas. Both groups are supported by Iran, Israel’s sworn enemy.

Three members of Hezbollah were killed today in a strike on their vehicle in south of Lebanon, two sources familiar with the group’s operations told Reuters, after a top Hezbollah commander was killed in the area yesterday.

Hezbollah said it had launched a drone attack against Israeli command headquarters in response to the killings of senior Hezbollah figure Wissam Tawil and of deputy Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri in Beirut last week. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the attacks. — Reuters

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