Disagreement on Gaza ceasefire as Blinken meets Arab officials in Amman

US Secretary of State calls on Israel to do all it can to avoid civilian deaths

U. S.  Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, left, and Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi attend a press conference in Amman, Jordan. AP
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and senior Middle East officials agreed on the need to bolster humanitarian relief for Gaza after a meeting in Jordan on Saturday but disagreed over a permanent ceasefire in the month-long war between Hamas and Isreal.

Mr Blinken met foreign ministers from Jordan, Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, all US allies, as well as a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Secretary of State repeated a US call for a “humanitarian pause” and said maximum assistance must reach Palestinians in Gaza.

He told reporters that a ceasefire would allow Hamas to “regroup and repeat what they did on October 7“, referring to their surprise attack on Israel that killed 1,400 people and prompted massive Israeli retaliation.

The US wants Hamas, an Iran-supported group linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, to be defeated.

Before meeting Mr Blinken, the Arab officials discussed among themselves bringing an “immediate halt to the military operations” that have “victimised the innocent” and delivering humanitarian aid “immediately and urgently” to Gaza, according to the Saudi official news agency.

“It is necessary to achieve a unanimous agreement on a permanent and lasting ceasefire without any restriction or condition,” said Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

Mr Shoukry has also said Egypt would “spare no effort” in allowing the transfer of aid to Gaza.

Jordan's King Abdullah II met the Arab officials earlier in the day, telling them that “the duty” of Arab countries is to pressure “the active international powers” to stop the war in Gaza, official Jordanian TV reported.

King Abdullah “reaffirmed that the security or military solution will not succeed in ending the Arab-Israeli struggle”, it said.

Mr Blinken met the king separately on Saturday evening.

He met Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati in the morning.

The meeting took place a day after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said “all options are on the table” in his first speech since cross-border clashes broke out between Israel and armed militant groups in Lebanon.

Hassan Nasrallah slams Israel and US in long-awaited televised speech

Hassan Nasrallah slams Israel and US in long-awaited televised speech

Hezbollah and other Iran-linked militias have not yet mounted sustained military operations that could trigger a regional war, observers said.

US and Arab officials have been also discussing postwar scenarios aimed at replacing Hamas with a more moderate administration in Gaza, western diplomats said.

Two Egyptian officials said on condition of anonymity that the US has sought to temper the Arab reaction to the Israeli operation, partly by adopting a tough line against any Iranian attempts to expand the war.

One of the officials said once the war is over, Washington will look to “internationalise” the Gaza Strip, possibly by convincing Arab states to join an international peacekeeping force and support the Palestinian Authority as a de facto replacement to Hamas in administering the area.

After repeated calls from its Arab allies for a ceasefire, the US last week called for a humanitarian pause in the Israeli operation.

A former US administration official told The National that fears over derailing an already fraught peace process between Saudi Arabia and Israel has contributed to tempering US rhetoric on Gaza.

“Conversations are happening in Washington and the Arab world to help alleviate at least part of the immediate needs in Gaza,” the former official said.

In a change in tone yesterday, Mr Blinken told reporters: “We’ve been clear that, as Israel conducts its campaign to defeat Hamas, how it does so matters.”

Hussein Al Sheikh, Secretary General of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and an ally of Mr Abbas, is expected to be at the meeting with the Arab foreign ministers.

Mr Al Sheikh has assumed higher political and diplomatic profiles in the past several months. He is widely believed to be the planned successor of Mr Abbas, who is 87.

The Hamas attack on Israel included the abduction of 240 people, currently being held in Gaza.

The Israeli retaliatory bombardment of Gaza and subsequent ground invasion have reportedly killed more than 9,000 people.

Additional reporting by Kamal Tabikha and Hamza Hendawi in Cairo

Updated: November 05, 2023, 4:37 AM