Secretary of State Antony Blinken began a trip to the Middle East on Monday aimed at preventing a broader war in the region and rallying allies around a proposal to release hostages held in Gaza. The visit comes as the Biden administration continues retaliatory strikes against Iranian-backed militias that targeted US forces.
Mr. Blinken arrived in Saudi Arabia His fifth trip To the region since the October 7 attacks in Israel. US officials said he hopes to make progress in talks on the proposal and will hold meetings with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Israel and the West Bank – all major players in negotiations over a possible halt to the fighting in Gaza.
The Biden administration and its Arab allies are still waiting for Hamas’ response to a framework agreement that includes the exchange of more than 100 Israeli hostages held in Gaza in exchange for a cessation of fighting and the release of Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity to clarify details of the diplomatic efforts, said Mr Blinken would tell America's allies in the region that the Biden administration's recent strikes against Iranian-backed militias should not be interpreted as an escalation of fighting in the Middle East. east.
The United States launched dozens of military strikes in recent days on targets in Iraq and Syria, in response to the killing of three American service members at a base near the Syrian border in Jordan. US and British warplanes, with the support of allies, carried out a new round of air strikes against the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen in an attempt to deter the group from attacking ships in the Red Sea.
The strikes in Iraq and Syria prompted Russia to call an “urgent” meeting of the UN Security Council, which was scheduled to take place on Monday afternoon. Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, accused the United States on Saturday of escalating the conflict in the Middle East, saying the strikes showed the “aggressive nature of American policy” in the region.
In Israel, Mr. Biden's top diplomat will convey American concerns about the rising number of civilian deaths in Gaza. More than 27,000 Palestinians have been killed since October 7, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health, and the fighting has displaced nearly two million people.
“We have been equally clear that we must care about and respond to the enormous and terrible suffering of the Palestinian people,” Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said on Sunday. “This means putting pressure on Israel on issues related to the humanitarian aid that we helped open and get into the Gaza Strip, and there must be more of it.”
Mr. Blinken will also discuss what diplomats call “day after” plans for managing Gaza after the fighting ends, including the potential role of the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The Biden administration also hopes to make progress toward convincing Saudi Arabia to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, a long-term goal that the United States considers important for stability in the Middle East. Under the proposed agreement, the United States would offer Saudi Arabia a defense treaty, assist with a civilian nuclear program and increase arms sales, while the Saudis and Americans would, in theory, get Israel to accept terms for taking concrete steps toward creating an Israeli state. Palestinian state in exchange for Saudi recognition.
— Zolan Kanu Young Reporting from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
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