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Blinken to discuss cease-fire push, post-war Gaza plans at talks in Saudi Arabia and Egypt

Blinken to discuss cease-fire push, post-war Gaza plans at talks in Saudi Arabia and Egypt

Baku, March 19, AZERTAC

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to visit Saudi Arabia and Egypt this week for talks that he said will focus on pushing for a cease-fire in Gaza, the release of hostages held by Palestinian militants, and planning for a post-war Gaza, VOA News reported.

Speaking Tuesday during a visit to the Philippines, Blinken told reporters that there will need to be arrangements in place for how to approach governance, security, humanitarian assistance and redevelopment of Gaza.

Blinken said the United States has impressed upon Israel the imperative of having a plan, and that the hope remains the conflict will end as soon as possible.

Much of the Gaza Strip’s infrastructure and homes have been leveled as Israel pursued its campaign to eliminate the Hamas militant group following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people according to Israeli tallies and included the capture of about 250 hostages.

The Gaza health ministry says the Israeli counteroffensive has killed nearly 32,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children. More than half of Gaza’s population has been displaced.

Blinken described what he called the “horrific humanitarian situation” in Gaza, citing United Nations reports that the entire population needs humanitarian aid.

“According to the most respected measure of these things, 100% of the population of Gaza is at severe level of acute food insecurity,” Blinken said. “That’s the first time an entire population has been so classified.”

Blinken expressed support for Israel’s right to defend itself and ensure another attack like the one on Oct. 7 does not happen again, but he also said it is “absolutely incumbent on Israel” to prioritize protecting civilians and providing for those who are desperately in need of humanitarian aid.

Blinken blamed Hamas for the current situation in Gaza, saying the terror group initiated the attack on Israel and could have stopped the war if it put down its arms, did not hide behind civilians and released the hostages it is still holding.

U.S. President Joe Biden spoke Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the first time in more than a month, voicing new concerns about Israel’s conduct of its war in Gaza against Hamas militants and its plan for a ground attack on the southern city of Rafah near the Egyptian border.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Biden told the Israeli leader in a phone call, “We share the goal of defeating Hamas, we just believe you need a coherent and sustainable strategy to make that happen."

Sullivan called Netanyahu’s plan for a ground offensive “smashing into” Rafah a “mistake.” More than a million Palestinians are sheltering in makeshift tents and structures there to try to protect themselves from the ravages of the war, many on orders from the Israeli military to abandon their homes in the northern reaches of Gaza as Israel continues to attack that region.

Israel has promised to move the Palestinians in Rafah to an undisclosed location for their safety before any attack on the region but has given no public indication of where that would be.

At Biden’s request, Sullivan said Netanyahu agreed to send a team of Israeli officials to Washington in the coming days, possibly early next week, to discuss Israel’s plans for any attack on Rafah and providing safety for Palestinians sheltering there.

Sullivan said the U.S. “fully expects” Israel to not initiate any attack on Rafah until after the discussions in Washington.

In a statement after the Biden-Netanyahu call, the Israeli leader’s office said, “We talked about the latest developments in the war, including Israel’s commitment to achieving all the goals of the war: the elimination of Hamas, the release of all our hostages, and the promise that Gaza will no longer pose a threat to Israel — while providing the necessary humanitarian aid that helps achieve these goals.”

The Biden phone call with Netanyahu came as the U.S. leader has voiced growing frustration at Israel’s conduct of the war, the ever-growing death toll of Palestinian civilians and the lack of humanitarian aid reaching famished people in Gaza.

Negotiators for Israel and Hamas are headed to Qatar to try again this week to reach agreement on a six-week cease-fire and the release of 40 or so of the estimated 100 hostages Hamas is still holding in exchange for dozens of Palestinians Israel has jailed.

But Sullivan said of the truce negotiations: "So far, this deal has been more elusive than we had hoped."

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