US Secretary of State Antony Blinken departs on Mideast trip to solidify ceasefire

Filed on May 24, 2021 | Last updated on May 24, 2021 at 11.20 pm

"Secretary Blinken will meet with Israeli leaders about our commitment to Israel’s security," US President Joe Biden said in a statement.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken left on Monday for a Middle East trip aimed at consolidating the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, a modest objective as Washington expresses a commitment to advancing a two-state solution.

Blinken heads first to Jerusalem, less than a week after both sides agreed to halt 11 days of bombardment that killed over 200 Palestinians in the ongoing conflict’s worst escalation in years.

“Secretary Blinken will meet with Israeli leaders about our commitment to Israel’s security,” US President Joe Biden said in a statement.

“He will continue our administration’s efforts to rebuild ties to, and support for, the Palestinian people and leaders, after years of neglect.”

Blinken’s trip, in addition to meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, will take him to Cairo for consultations with President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi and then to Amman to speak with Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

“We’re really focused primarily on ensuring that the ceasefire sticks, and taking tangible steps to advance the quality of people’s lives, advance their freedom, advance their security and advance their prosperity,” a senior State Department official told journalists.

“We believe that, in the immediate term, that’s what’s feasible, and that’s what’s important,” the official added.

In a tweet, Blinken said the trip would aim to support “efforts to solidify a ceasefire”.

“The United States has engaged in intensive diplomacy to bring an end to the hostilities and reduce tensions,” he added.

The United Nations says more than half of those killed, the overwhelming majority in Israeli air strikes, were civilians.

Washington has spoken up on helping Palestinians recover, to the extent possible, following the fighting.

Biden, in his statement, said part of Blinken’s trip would involve working on “the coordinated international effort to ensure immediate assistance reaches Gaza in a way that benefits the people there and not Hamas, and on reducing the risk of further conflict in the coming months.”

Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, said on Sunday the reconstruction needed to go hand in hand with efforts to create “a different political environment.”

“We need to have a genuine focus on human development,” on proper access to education, jobs and livelihoods, he said.

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