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Blinken heads to Saudi Arabia on Gaza truce bid

By AFP

April 28, 2024 08:18 PM


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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken flew out Sunday to Saudi Arabia on a new bid to work with Arab leaders to reach a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas as public pressure grows.

Blinken will meet Monday with leaders of Gulf Arab states including Qatar, which along with Egypt has been mediating a plan to halt the Gaza war and release hostages, with Hamas promising a response on Monday.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Blinken will work on ceasefire efforts but added: "It is Hamas that is standing between the Palestinian people and a ceasefire."

President Joe Biden is facing rising pressure at home over his support including military aid to Israel, with pro-Palestinian protests sweeping universities.

The Biden administration, while backing Israel, has repeatedly voiced alarm over the heavy toll on civilians in the Gaza offensive and has pressed Israel to hold off on an assault on Rafah, the southern Gaza city where more than one million Palestinians have taken shelter.

Speaking in Riyadh on Sunday, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas said, "We appeal to the United States of America to ask Israel to stop the Rafah operation because America is the only country capable of preventing Israel from committing this crime."

It will be Blinken's seventh trip to the Middle East since October 7 and his first since the long shadow war between Iran and Israel escalated into direct conflict.

Blinken will "emphasize the importance of preventing the conflict from spreading and discuss ongoing efforts to achieve lasting peace and security in the region," he said.

Before Hamas on October 7 carried out the deadliest attack ever on Israel, Saudi Arabia had been discussing normalization with Israel -- a landmark step by the guardian of Islam's two holiest sites.

The United States hopes to dangle the prospect of normalization to encourage moderation by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a longtime opponent of a Palestinian state.

Blinken will discuss "a pathway to an independent Palestinian state with security guarantees for Israel," Miller said.

The Biden administration has promised to work on a roadmap to Palestinian statehood but the United States recently vetoed a Security Council bid for the Palestinians to receive full-blown status at the UN, which would amount to recognition of statehood. The US said any recognition needs to come after negotiations with Israel.

Gulf Cooperation Council countries meeting in Riyadh include Qatar, which has been spearheading months of talks aiming to halt the deadly Israeli offensive in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in return for the release of hostages.

In Saudi Arabia, one of the world's top oil exporters, Blinken will also attend a special session on energy at the World Economic Forum, the gathering of the world's business elite that meets in January in Davos, Switzerland.

Miller said Blinken will promote efforts to fight climate change, a key priority for President Joe Biden and in sharp contrast with his election rival Donald Trump.


AFP


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