Antony Blinken renews call to protect civilians and prevent escalation

US Secretary of State is expected to visit nine countries on week-long trip

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Greece for talks. AFP
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has visited Nato allies Turkey and Greece before starting a week-long tour of the Middle East to discuss the war in Gaza.

Mr Blinken met Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan before flying to Greece for a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis where the focus would be Gaza and Ukraine.

After more than an hour of talks with Mr Erdogan, Mr Blinken said they needed to “work toward broader, lasting regional peace that ensures Israel's security and advances the establishment of a Palestinian state”.

“We want to make sure that countries who feel that way are also using their ties, using their influence, using their relationships with some of the actors that might be involved to keep a lid on things, to make sure that we're not seeing the spread of conflict,” Mr Blinken said before flying to Jordan.

He added that it was clear Israel did not want escalation but that it did need to defend itself.

“From the perspective of Israel, it's clearly not interested, does not want escalation … but they also have to be fully prepared to defend themselves,” he said.

He also said he would be looking at what could be done to maximise the protection of civilians in Gaza and increase deliveries of humanitarian assistance. “Far too many Palestinians have been killed, especially children,” he said.

Blinken arrives in Turkey to begin Middle East tour

Blinken arrives in Turkey to begin Middle East tour

A Turkish diplomatic source said Foreign Minister Hakan Fiden had pressed the US team for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza that could ensure the smooth delivery of aid.

Mr Blinken will travel to Jordan, Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the occupied West Bank as he seeks to prevent the region from spiralling into further violence.

The threat of a broader regional conflict appears to have increased this week in the wake of the assassination of Saleh Al Arouri, deputy leader of Hamas, in a strike widely attributed to Israel that occurred in Beirut’s southern suburbs, and twin explosions in Iran that left at least 84 people dead. That attack has since been claimed by ISIS.

This is Mr Blinken’s fourth trip to the region since October 7, when Hamas militants launched a surprise attack on southern Israel that killed 1,200 people and led to Israel declaring war on Hamas. Gaza officials say Israel has killed more than 22,700 people in the densely populated enclave since the attack.

Washington has been Israel's biggest ally throughout the war, twice vetoing UN resolutions calling for a ceasefire and sending weapons and ammunition to the Israeli military including a recent shipment that Mr Blinken authorised without congressional approval.

But as the military campaign in Gaza has dragged on, pressure on President Joe Biden's administration to prevent further bloodshed has increased.

Mr Blinken is expected to push Israel to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza and to better protect civilians – pleas he has made on his previous trips.

Updated: January 07, 2024, 6:43 AM