Jerusalem: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed Tuesday to rally international support to aid Gaza following a devastating war, as he began a regional tour to shore up last week’s cease-fire.
Blinken, who spoke after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the US would work to address the grave humanitarian situation in the coastal territory but would also ensure that Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers do not benefit from reconstruction assistance.
The 11-day Gaza war killed more than 250 people, mostly Palestinians, and caused widespread destruction in the impoverished coastal territory.
The truce that came into effect Friday has so far held, but it did not address any of the underlying issues.
On his tour of the region, Blinken will face the same obstacles that have stifled a wider peace process for more than a decade, including a hawkish Israeli leadership, Palestinian divisions and deeply rooted tensions surrounding Jerusalem and its holy sites.
Blinken, who landed at Ben Gurion International Airport early Tuesday, is the highest-ranking US official to visit the region since U.S. President Joe Biden assumed office. He was welcomed on the tarmac by Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and other officials.
The administration had hoped to extricate the US from the region’s intractable conflicts and focus on competition with China and climate change. But like so many of its predecessors, it was pulled back into the Middle East by another outbreak of violence.
He will begin his visit in Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting for his political life after a fourth inconclusive election in two years.
Netanyahu faces mounting criticism from Israelis who say he ended the offensive prematurely, without forcibly halting Palestinian rocket attacks or dealing a heavier blow to Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers.
The war was triggered by weeks of clashes in Jerusalem between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a flashpoint holy site.
The protests were directed at Israel’s policing of the area during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers.
The evictions were put on hold just before the Gaza fighting erupted, but the legal process is set to resume in the coming weeks. Police briefly clashed with protesters at Al-Aqsa on Friday, hours after the cease-fire came into effect. The site is revered by Jews and Muslims, and has seen several outbreaks of Israeli-Palestinian violence over the years.
Netanyahu is unlikely to make any public concessions on Al-Aqsa or the evictions because it would be seen as giving in to Hamas’ demands.