Top Diplomat Blinken Will Visit The Mideast Again This Coming Week. What Can He Achieve This Time?

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken is returning to the Middle East on his seventh diplomatic mission to the region since the IsraelHamas war in Gaza began more than six months ago, the State Department said Saturday.

WASHINGTON: Secretary of State Antony Blinken is returning to the Middle East on his seventh diplomatic mission to the region since the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza began more than six months ago, the State Department said Saturday.

Blinken is traveling to Saudi Arabia on Monday, just two days since arriving back in Washington after a trip to China. Blinken will attend a World Economic Forum conference and meet with Arab foreign ministers in Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

An Israeli foreign ministry official says Blinken will visit Israel on Tuesday, a stop not mentioned in the State Department’s announcement about Blinken’s itinerary.

His latest Mideast trip, on the heels of meetings in China with President Xi Jinping and other high-ranking officials, comes as the war grinds on, with more than 34,000 Palestinians killed, hundreds of thousands displaced and a steadily worsening humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. In the surprise attack by Hamas against Israel on Oct. 7 that triggered the war, about 1,200 people were killed and about 250 people abducted.

U.S.-backed efforts to negotiate a cease-fire in exchange for the release of the hostages have failed. On Saturday, Hamas said it was reviewing a new Israeli proposal for a cease-fire as Egypt stepped up efforts to broker a deal to end the war and avert a possible Israeli ground offensive into the southern Gaza city of Rafah. A Hamas official gave no details of the offer. Negotiations earlier this month centered on a six-week cease-fire plan and the release of 40 civilian and sick hostages in exchange for freeing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Since mid-October, Blinken has shuttled between Israel and its most of its Arab and Muslim neighbors, trying to boost aid to civilians in Gaza, prevent the conflict from spreading throughout the region and build support for plans for the reconstruction and governance of postwar Gaza — all while vocally backing Israel’s right to defend itself.

Israel’s offensive in Gaza has heightened political pressure in the U.S., with pro-Palestinian protests springing up at universities and resulting pushback from some who say the demonstrations have veered into antisemitism.

Blinken and other American official have tried to dissuade Israel from mounting a large-scale military operation in Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians have fled to escape the fighting.

He has had limited success. Aid shipments into Gaza have increased but are not at the level to prevent what the United Nations says is looming famine, and Arab nations have agreed to back evolving plans for Gaza’s future.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Blinken “will discuss ongoing efforts to achieve a cease-fire in Gaza that secures the release of hostages and how it is Hamas that is standing between the Palestinian people and a cease-fire.” Blinken will stress the importance of keeping the conflict from spreading and discuss efforts “to achieve lasting peace and security in the region, including through a pathway to an independent Palestinian state with security guarantees for Israel.”

Israel is plowing ahead with preparations to attack Rafah, and the conflict has escalated, in particular after a suspected Israeli attack on Iran’s consulate in Syria. Iran retaliated with drone, ballistic and cruise missile launches, provoking an apparent Israeli airstrike near a major air base and nuclear site in central Iran.

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Associated Press writer Julia Frankel in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed – Associated Press)

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