Blinken in Israel Amid Push to Contain Gaza War

WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he would discuss “the way forward” as he met Tuesday with Israeli leaders in Tel Aviv, amid a push to prevent the war in Gaza from spreading in the region and for Israeli officials to do more to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian aid deliveries to Gaza.

 

Speaking alongside Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Blinken said he would have the opportunity to meet with the families of the some of the hostages held by Hamas militants in Gaza, and to relay to Israeli leaders some of what he heard from other leaders in the region during stops in Turkey, Greece, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

Herzog thanked the United States for “standing steadfast with Israel” and said the war against Hamas is one that “affects international values and the values of the free world.”

Herzog also rejected a lawsuit filed at the International Court of Justice accusing Israel of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, calling the accusation “atrocious and preposterous.”

Hearings in the case are due to begin Thursday, and Herzog said Israel will “present proudly our case of using self-defense under our most inherent right under international humanitarian law.”

U.S. officials have called on Israel to do more to protect civilians in Gaza, and that message was one Blinken planned to repeat in his meetings Tuesday.

Gaza health officials say close to 23,000 Palestinians, a large percentage of them women and children, have been killed in Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Israel has criticized Hamas for locating its operations in civilian areas, including the use of tunnels under cities.  Herzog said Tuesday that Israel is “doing our utmost under extremely complicated circumstances” to ensure there are no civilian casualties.

Blinken said Monday that leaders in the Middle East are determined to prevent the Gaza conflict from spreading and that there is broad recognition on the need to “chart a political path forward for the Palestinians.”

“The West Bank and Gaza should be united under Palestinian-led governance,” Blinken told reporters in Saudi Arabia.

“The future of the region needs to be one of integration, not division and not conflict,” Blinken said, adding “for that to happen, we need to see the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.”

In a statement following talks with Blinken, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman underscored the importance of halting military operations in the Gaza Strip and the need to create conditions for restoring peace and stability.

When asked about the U.S.-led talks to normalize the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel, Blinken said there is “a clear interest” in Saudi Arabia, as well as in the region, in pursuing that goal but “it will require that the conflict end in Gaza, and it will also clearly require that there be a practical pathway to a Palestinian state.”

Saudi Arabia has paused diplomatic talks to normalize ties with Israel amid the military conflict between Hamas militants and Israeli forces.

After an Israeli airstrike killed a key Hezbollah commander in southern Lebanon on Monday — the latest sign of a possibly widening conflict in the Middle East — Blinken told reporters it is clearly not in the interest of Israel, Lebanon, or Hezbollah to see an escalation outside Gaza and “the Israelis have been very clear with” the U.S. that “they want to find a diplomatic way forward.”

Hezbollah has identified the commander as Wissam al-Tawil. Last week, senior Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri was killed in a drone strike in Beirut. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran, whose militant allies in Syria, Iraq and Yemen have also been carrying out longer-range attacks against Israel.

 

The United States has urged Israel to shift to smaller scale military operations in Gaza but has continued to support Israel in refusing Arab demands for a cease-fire to halt the fighting in the three-month war. Israel has vowed to continue the war until it believes the threat of future Hamas attacks has been eradicated and the militant group no longer controls Gaza, a narrow strip of territory along the Mediterranean Sea.

Israel began its military campaign to wipe out Hamas after Hamas fighters crossed into southern Israel on Oct. 7. Israel said about 1,200 people were killed and about 240 captives taken in the terror attack.

Some material for this report was provided by Reuters and The Associated Press.