US Secretary of State Antony Blinken Wednesday wrapped up a Mideast tour to bolster an Egypt-brokered ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, calling for regional cooperation to avoid more “harrowing violence”.
Blinken met with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders during the two days of talks, throwing Washington’s support behind the truce that ended 11 days of heavy Israeli bombing of Gaza and rocket fire from the impoverished coastal enclave into Israel.
“Securing the ceasefire was important, particularly because of the devastating toll violence took on families on both sides,” Blinken told reporters after meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman, his final stop.
“We see the ceasefire not as an end, but as a beginning of something to build on.”
Following talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Blinken vowed to rebuild US relations with the Palestinians by reopening a consulate in Jerusalem, as well as give millions in aid for the war-battered Gaza Strip.
The announcements signalled a break with US policy under former president Donald Trump, who had shuttered the diplomatic mission for Palestinians in 2019 and slashed aid to the Palestinian Authority.
In the long term, Blinken invoked the “possibility of resuming the effort to achieve a two-state solution, which we continue to believe is the only way to truly assure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, and of course to give the Palestinians the state they’re entitled to”.
After meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Blinken reiterated support for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks by Gaza’s Hamas rulers, adding that they must not benefit from reconstruction aid.
– ‘Help and support’ –
The “most urgent thing is humanitarian assistance for the people in Gaza”, Blinken said Wednesday, listing water, sanitation and electricity as immediate needs, ahead of support for longer-term reconstruction.
Qatar announced $500 million for the reconstruction effort, matching the amount pledged by Cairo last week for the devastated Palestinian enclave.
Hamas political chief Yahya Sinwar vowed Wednesday not to take “a single cent” of the aid, insisting that “we have never taken a cent in the past”.
Blinken also met Wednesday with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo, whom he praised for helping bring an end to the intense violence “relatively quickly”, before he headed to Jordan, where half of the 10 million-strong population is of Palestinian origin.
“Our meetings today in Cairo and Amman — indeed, this whole trip — reflect a fundamental reality,” Blinken said. “If we want to avoid a return to the harrowing violence of recent weeks, the countries of this region are going to have to help and support one another.”
Unlike the United States and many European governments, which boycott Hamas as a terror group, Egypt maintains regular contacts.
Egypt was also the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, and has sent delegations to both Tel Aviv and Gaza to watch over the ceasefire implementation.
It has also been coordinating international relief and reconstruction aid for the enclave, which has been under Israeli blockade for nearly 15 years.
– US assistance –
Blinken said the US was in the process of providing more than $360 million in assistance to Palestinians, including $250 million announced in March and April.
On top of that, he said the administration intended to provide $75 million in aid to the Palestinians, as well as $5.5 million in immediate disaster assistance for Gaza, and nearly $33 million for an emergency humanitarian appeal by the UN.
The latest military escalation started after clashes in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest site, which is also revered by Jews as the Temple Mount.
Israeli security forces had moved in on Palestinian worshippers there towards the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
They had also sought to quell protests against the threatened eviction of Palestinian families from homes in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah to make way for Jewish settlers.
Israeli air strikes and artillery fire on Gaza killed 254 Palestinians, including 66 children, and wounded more than 1,900 people in 11 days of conflict from May 10, the health ministry in Gaza says.
Rocket and other fire from Gaza claimed 12 lives in Israel, including one child and an Arab-Israeli teenager, an Israeli soldier, one Indian national and two Thai workers, medics say. Some 357 people in Israel were wounded.
The UN Human Rights Council will hold a special session focused on Israel Thursday to consider launching a broad, international investigation into abuses during the violence.