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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, right, in Ramallah Alamy Stock Photo

Antony Blinken meets head of Palestinian Authority as Israel continues to bombard Gaza

Mahmud Abbas spoke with Blinken of the need “to stop the Israeli aggression against Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank”.

ISRAEL CONTINUED TO bomb Gaza today as US top diplomat Antony Blinken met the head of the Palestinian Authority and travelled to Bahrain on his Middle East tour aimed at stopping the Israel-Hamas war from escalating.

The Israeli military said it killed dozens of “terrorists” and hit another 150 targets in Gaza, where the health ministry said 147 people had been killed over the previous 24 hours.

The bloodiest ever Gaza conflict started by the unprecedented 7 October Hamas attack on Israel has raged on for more than three months and killed over 23,000 people in the besieged Palestinian territory, according to its health ministry.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas spoke with Blinken of the need “to stop the Israeli aggression against Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank”, which has also been torn by deadly unrest, said the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.

Blinken told Abbas that Washington supports “tangible steps” towards the creation of a Palestinian state – a long-term goal which the hard-right Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has opposed.

The US Secretary of State reiterated the US position that a Palestinian state must stand alongside Israel, “with both living in peace and security”, said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

As Blinken arrived under tight security at Abbas’s headquarters in Ramallah, a group of protesters held up signs that read “Stop the genocide”, “Free Palestine” and “Blinken out”. Some scuffled with Palestinian security forces in riot gear.

Abbas was later set to discuss a “push for an immediate ceasefire” in Gaza in talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the Red Sea port city of Aqaba.

u-s-secretary-of-state-antony-blinken-left-walks-with-bahrains-king-hamad-bin-isa-al-khalifa-in-manama-bahrain-wednesday-jan-10-2024-evelyn-hocksteinpool-photo-via-ap US Secretary of State Antony Blinken walks with Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa in Manama, Bahrain. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Blinken later arrived in the Gulf state of Bahrain, home base of the US Fifth Fleet, for talks with King Hamad on preventing a regional escalation of the war, the State Department said.

Red Sea clashes spike

Since the ongoing Gaza conflict started, fears have grown of a widening conflict between Israel and Iran-backed armed groups, especially Lebanon’s Hezbollah but also groups in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Yemen’s Huthi rebels have carried out numerous attacks on merchant ships in the Red Sea, and the United States has set up a multinational naval task force to protect the vital commercial artery.

On Tuesday, the rebels “launched a complex” attack, US Central Command said, adding that US and British forces had shot down 18 drones and three missiles, with no casualties or damage reported.

They were downed by a combination of F/A-18 warplanes, operating from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier, three American destroyers and a British naval vessel, CENTCOM said.

The Huthis later said they had fired a “large number” of missiles and drones at a US ship.

British Defence Secretary Grant Shapps warned that “the UK alongside allies have previously made clear that these illegal attacks are completely unacceptable and if continued the Huthis will bear the consequences.

palestinians-run-on-the-al-aqsa-hospital-grounds-moments-after-an-israeli-strike-hit-a-building-next-to-it-in-deir-al-balah-gaza-strip-on-wednesday-jan-10-2023-ap-photoadel-hana Palestinians run in the grounds of the Al-Aqsa Hospital moments after an Israeli strike hit a building next to it, in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

“Enough is enough,” he told Sky News. “This has to stop and that is my simple message to them today: Watch this space.”

‘Sacrificed our children’

The ongoing conflict began when Hamas launched its unprecedented 7 October attack, which resulted in about 1,140 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Militants also took around 250 hostages, of whom Israel says 132 remain in Gaza including at least 25 believed to have been killed.

Israel has responded with a relentless military campaign that has killed at least 23,210 people, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry.

The Israeli army says 186 of its soldiers have been killed inside Gaza.

The United Nations estimates 1.9 million Gazans have been displaced inside the besieged territory that had already endured years of blockade and poverty before the conflict.

Amnesty International said today that there is “no end in sight” to the suffering of Palestinians.

Global concern has flared over Gaza’s humanitarian crisis, and Blinken – while voicing continued US support for top regional ally Israel – has urged steps to reduce the suffering.

Dire shortages brought by an Israeli siege mean the “daily toll on civilians in Gaza, particularly children, is far too high”, Blinken said on Tuesday after talks with Netanyahu.

palestinians-look-at-a-damaged-residential-building-after-an-israeli-strike-in-rafah-southern-gaza-strip-wednesday-jan-10-2024-ap-photofatima-shbair Palestinians look at a damaged residential building after an Israeli strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Blinken called for “more food, more water, more medicine” for Gaza, where only limited relief supplies have arrived.

Desperate Gazans on Tuesday climbed onto one truck carrying flour and canned goods and tossed the food to the crowd below, AFP footage showed.

Army spokesman Daniel Hagari said Israel is “ready and willing to facilitate as much humanitarian aid as the world will give”.

The war raged on unabated and the army reported more deadly fighting in Gaza’s central Maghazi and southern Khan Younis areas.

Troops had found 15 tunnel shafts as well as rocket launchers, missiles, drones and explosives in Al-Maghazi and destroyed machinery for making rockets that have been fired at Israel, the army said.

One of the many displaced Palestinians, Hassan Kaskin, 55, told AFP: “We have lost our money, our houses, our jobs. We are losing our youths as well.

“We’ve sacrificed our children for our homeland.”

US crisis diplomacy

Blinken is on his fourth tour of the Middle East since the outbreak of the conflict, with earlier stops in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Washington has floated a post-conflict scenario in which a reformed Palestinian Authority governs Gaza as well as towns and cities in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967.

Blinken argued that “Israel must be a partner to Palestinian leaders who are willing to lead their people in living side by side in peace with Israel as neighbours”.

Amid a flare-up of violence in the West Bank, Blinken also said that “extremist settler violence carried out with impunity, settlement expansion, demolitions, evictions all make it harder, not easier, for Israel to achieve lasting peace and security”.

He added that “the Palestinian Authority also has a responsibility to reform itself, to improve its governance – issues I plan to raise with president Abbas”.

Netanyahu, who leads what is widely seen as the most right-wing government in Israeli history, has shown no interest in reviving negotiations towards a Palestinian state.

A post-conflict plan outlined by Defence Minister Yoav Gallant envisions local “civil committees” governing Gaza after Israel has dismantled Hamas.

Blinken declined to say whether Netanyahu’s views had shifted in their discussions.

Hamas, an Islamist movement, seized sole control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, ousting Abbas’s Fatah party, with which it had shared power.

The United States and European Union blacklist Hamas as a “terrorist” organisation.

Hamas’s Qatar-based chief Ismail Haniyeh said last week he was “open to the idea” of a single Palestinian administration in Gaza and the West Bank.

© AFP 2024