Israel-Hamas war: Has Antony Blinken's visit to the Middle East made a humanitarian pause in Gaza more likely?
The question came as his Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, was on a tour of the Middle East. Mr Blinken met with leaders in the region in the hope of forging ties and brokering better relations with Israel as it continues its retaliatory attacks on the territory in its war against Hamas.
While Mr Biden’s reaction may have appeared positive, Mr Blinken does not appear to have been able to encourage the Israeli government to come to any kind of movement towards calls made by the Arab League, which has warned it regards Israel’s actions as war crimes – and has urged an immediate ceasefire.
However, Israel has insisted it will not consider a pause of any kind until progress is made on hostages. A small number of hostages have been released, including 85-year-old Yocheved Lifschitz, who was returned to Israel alongside 79-year-old Nurit Cooper, with the pair freed at the end of last month. However, more than 200 people are still believed to be held captive in Gaza after being taken from Israel on October 7.
The government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, has been blinkered in its reaction to the Hamas attacks, launching an unprecedented bombardment campaign and siege on Gaza in a bid to stamp out militants. However, while foreign governments initially stood strongly by Israel – with the US one of its long-term, most staunch allies – more are now beginning to suggest to Mr Netanyahu that he should implement, if not a ceasefire, a humanitarian pause to allow aid to reach those in Gaza.
The strip has seen more than 10,000 deaths since Israel began its campaign. Aid organisations have warned of a humanitarian disaster as the population struggles to survive on almost no food – and only dirty water sources.
United Nations agency UNWRA has said hospitals have been forced to close, while more than 1.4 million people – out of a population of 2.2m – have been displaced from their homes.
Mr Blinken met with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, as well as prime minister Mohammed Shia' Al Sudani in Iraq. Both meetings were shrouded in secrecy.
However, he also held a press conference with Jordanian foreign minister Ayman Safadi and Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry in a show of cordiality aimed as much as a warning shot at Iran as anything else, following a spate of attacks on US troops in the region.
As Mr Blinken left Turkey, which has just severed diplomatic ties with Israel, CIA director William J Burns also arrived in the Middle East. The visit, US sources have said, is to hold discussions about the situation in Gaza, hostage negotiations and containing the conflict to stop it spreading further into the region – along similar lines as Mr Blinken. Arriving in Israel, he will also give security advice to Mr Netanyahu’s government.
It will be hoped his experience in the region – he was ambassador to Jordan – will afford him better luck than Mr Blinken.
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