Photo: Mark Schiefelbein Associated Press American Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to visit Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, Israel and the occupied West Bank.
Shaun Tandon – Agence France-Presse in Washington
February 4, 2024
- Middle East
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken left for the Middle East on Sunday in the hope of advancing negotiations on a new truce between Israel and Hamas in Gaza in exchange for 'a release of Israeli hostages.
This fifth trip to the region since the start of the conflict on October 7 comes in a context of tensions exacerbated by American strikes targeting pro-Iranian groups in Iraq and Syria, as well as against the Houthis in Yemen.
Mr. Blinken is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, Israel and the occupied West Bank.
While saying it continues to support “Israel's right to defend itself”, the United States displays growing frustration with the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, some members of which openly criticize American President Joe Biden, like the far-right Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben Gvir.
Washington also took rare sanctions against extremist settlers accused of violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, territory occupied by Israel and where, according to President Biden, the situation is “intolerable”.
Negotiations are continuing to reach a second truce, longer than the one-week truce which at the end of November allowed the release of around a hundred hostages held in Gaza in exchange for Palestinians detained by Israel.
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Representatives from Qatar, Egypt, Israel and the United States met a week ago in Paris to discuss a proposed truce agreement in the war in Gaza.
It plans a six-week truce with the release of 200 to 300 Palestinians detained in Israel in exchange for 35 to 40 hostages, according to a source from Hamas, an organization classified as “terrorist” by Israel, the United States United and the European Union.
Speaking last Monday, after speaking with the Prime Minister of Qatar, Mohammed bin Abdelrahmane Al-Thani, Mr. Blinken spoke of “real hope” on this subject.
But “the ball is in Hamas’ court,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday.
According to Israeli authorities, 132 hostages are still captive, of whom 28 are believed to be dead.
In Israel, the head of American diplomacy will also lobby to increase the delivery of food, water and medicine to the Gaza Strip, devastated after nearly four months of Israeli bombing intensive.
“This will be one of his main priorities when he meets with the Israeli government,” said Mr. Sullivan, according to whom “the needs of the Palestinian population are at the heart of the American approach “.
Mr. Blinken is due to begin this new tour through Saudi Arabia on Monday.
He is expected to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, de facto ruler of the kingdom, there, as Washington strives to resume discussions on a possible normalization of relations between Riyadh and Israel, suspended after the start of war.
At the beginning of January, in Saudi Arabia already, Mr. Blinken spoke of a “clear interest” in pursuing this objective, which Riyadh however conditions on the end of the war in Gaza and the creation of a Palestinian state.
The war was sparked on October 7 by an unprecedented Hamas attack on Israeli soil, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count based on official Israeli data.
In response, Israel vowed to “annihilate” Hamas and launched a military offensive that left 27,238 dead, the vast majority civilians, according to the Islamist movement's Health Ministry.
More than 1.3 million residents of the Gaza Strip, according to the UN, more than half its population, are now refugees in Rafah in the south, trapped against the closed border with Egypt, threatened in the middle of winter by famine and epidemics.