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US Top Diplomat Blinken Visits Israel to Discuss Gaza Truce, Aid

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived on Thursday in Tel Aviv where he was expected to meet with Israeli leaders to discuss extending Israel’s temporary truce with Hamas militants and boosting humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

Blinken, making his third trip to the region since the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, is also expected to visit the occupied West Bank, where he will likely meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a Palestinian official said.

Washington’s top diplomat is also expected to discuss Israel’s looming offensive into southern Gaza. The U.S. is asking Israel to take greater care to protect Palestinian civilians and limit damage to infrastructure in any offensive in the south, senior U.S. officials said.

“Looking at the next couple of days, we’ll be focused on…doing what we can to extend the pause so that we continue to get more hostages out and more humanitarian assistance in,” Blinken said at a news conference in Brussels on Wednesday.

The truce has brought the first respite to Gaza in seven weeks during which Israel bombed the territory heavily in response to a violent rampage by Hamas gunmen who killed around 1,200 people and took 240 hostages.

Israel has sworn to annihilate Hamas, which rules Gaza. Health authorities in Gaza say Israel’s bombardment of the tiny, densely populated territory has so far killed more than 15,000 people, around 40% of them children.

Since the start of the war, Blinken has conducted high-stakes diplomacy with Israeli and Arab leaders to help ensure the conflict does not broaden, push for the release of hostages and facilitate aid into Gaza, where a humanitarian disaster is unfolding.

On Wednesday, 16 more hostages were released by Hamas on the final day of a two-day truce extension. Israel was expected to release 30 more Palestinians from its jails. The swaps are a core component of the truce arrangement.

In Brussels, Blinken also said he would continue discussing Gaza’s post-war future with Washington’s regional partners. The U.S. has said it does not want Gaza to be occupied or besieged, and does not want to see Palestinians permanently displaced or Gaza’s territory shrink.

Blinken said the U.S. would “define the steps that we and our partners in the region can take now to lay the foundation for a just and lasting peace”.

Following Israel, Blinken will visit the United Arab Emirates to attend a regional meeting and attend the U.N. COP28 climate summit.

Source : Reuters