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Blinken Heads to Middle East to Build on Israel-Hamas Cease-fire

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STATE DEPARTMENT – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken departed Monday for the Middle East following a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas that went into effect early Friday.

This is Blinken’s first trip to the region as the top U.S. diplomat. He will meet with Israeli, Palestinian, and regional counterparts as part of Washington’s efforts to build on the Gaza truce.

The secretary will hold talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials in Jerusalem and will meet in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and other senior officials.

U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement Monday that Blinken will “meet with Israeli leaders about our ironclad commitment to Israel’s security” and “will continue our administration’s efforts to rebuild ties to, and support for, the Palestinian people and leaders, after years of neglect.” 

Biden said the United States will work with regional partners to “ensure immediate assistance reaches Gaza in a way that benefits the people there and not Hamas.” 

“Our focus right now relentlessly is on dealing with the humanitarian situation, starting to do reconstruction and rebuild, and engage intensely with everyone, with Palestinians, with Israelis, with partners in the region,” Blinken told CNN Sunday.

Blinken’s Middle East trip will include a visit to Egypt, which mediated the Gaza truce between Israel and Hamas-led Palestinian militants.  He will meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

Egyptian mediators have been traveling across the Gaza border and met with Abbas in an effort to sustain the cease-fire.

Hamas militants parade through the streets for Bassem Issa, a top Hamas' commander, who was killed by Israeli Defense Force…

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Blinken will conclude his trip with a stop in Amman to meet with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, the State Department said.

At the United Nations, members of the Security Council welcomed the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, renewing a call to achieve a comprehensive peace “based on the vision of a region where two democratic States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace with secure and recognized borders” in a statement over the weekend.

Some experts said a cease-fire will not address the long-term issues that have prevented a resolution to the decadeslong conflict.

“The United States must elucidate its position on what a viable, sovereign and contiguous Palestinian state would look like,” and “should outline what actions it considers damaging to the prospect of a two-state solution,” wrote former Egyptian diplomat Ambassador Hesham Youssef, who is now a senior fellow at United States Institute of Peace.

‘Hope to live in security and dignity’

With the immediate conflict halted, Blinken said Sunday the United States believes it is time for a settlement that grants “equal measures of rights for the Israelis and Palestinians.”

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about climate change at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Annapolis, Maryland

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about climate change at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Annapolis, Maryland, May 22, 2021.

He told ABC’s “This Week” show that Palestinians need to “feel hope to live in security and dignity in a Palestinian state.” He said U.S. President Joe Biden “remains committed to a two-state solution,” with a separate state of Palestine, but acknowledged it was “not necessarily something for today.”  

Blinken blamed Hamas militants for the recent fighting, saying, “Hamas has brought nothing but ruin to the Palestinian people.”   

The Biden administration has said a two-state solution is the only answer to resolving the conflict between the two sides.  

“Let’s get something straight here: Until the region says, unequivocally, they acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as an independent Jewish state, there will be no peace,” Biden said Friday during a joint press conference with visiting South Korean President Moon Jae-in. 

Biden also said it’s essential to ensure the security for Palestinians in the West Bank and help the people of Gaza. 

Washington said it will work with the Palestinian Authority to rebuild Gaza but not with Hamas and “in a way that will not allow Hamas to re-arm.” It’s seen as a difficult plan since the Hamas-led Palestinian militants control Gaza. 

Hamas had fired rockets at Israeli cities from Gaza since May 10, for what it said were rights abuses committed by Israel against Palestinians in Jerusalem.    

Israel retaliated with targeted artillery and airstrikes on leaders of Hamas and the group’s infrastructure. The Israelis faced international condemnation for blowing up high-rise buildings and striking refugee camps and other targets, which caused extensive civilian casualties.   

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