Blinken heads to Israel and Palestine to 'solidify' Gaza ceasefire

US Secretary of State will meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders, before travelling to Egypt and Jordan

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken departs on Monday for a Middle East trip to consolidate the ceasefire that brought 11 days of deadly bombardments between Israel and Hamas to a halt.

"Secretary Blinken will meet Israeli leaders about our ironclad commitment to Israel's security," US President Joe Biden said.

"He will continue our administration's efforts to rebuild ties to, and support for, the Palestinian people and leaders, after years of neglect."

Mr Biden, who came under criticism from many within his own Democratic party for not pushing US ally Israel more publicly to call a ceasefire, has touted his administration's "quiet, relentless diplomacy" to bring about a halt in the fighting.

Mr Blinken's trip, in addition to meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, will take him to Cairo and Amman for consultations with officials there.

In a tweet, Mr Blinken said the trip will aim to support "efforts to solidify a ceasefire".

"The United States has engaged in intensive diplomacy to bring an end to the hostilities and reduce tensions," he said.

Israeli strikes on Gaza this month killed 248 Palestinians, including 66 children, and wounded more than 1,900 people, the Gaza Health Ministry said.

Rockets and other fire from Gaza killed 12 people in Israel, including one child, medics said. At least 357 people in Israel were wounded.

In a call with reporters on Monday, a senior US official said the most immediate goal for the trip “is to make sure the ceasefire holds”.

“We will be working in partnership with the UN and the PA [Palestinian Authority],” the official said. The UN will lead the effort, he explained, but said the US hopes “for reintegration of the PA in Gaza".

Mr Blinken later said Washington wanted to build a "better future for Israelis and Palestinians."

Militant movement Hamas took control of the enclave in 2007 and Gaza has been subject to an Israeli air, naval and border blockade since then.

The official said “we don’t see Hamas as having a veto power” on the aid, and that Washington is in close communication with Gulf partners on the issue.

Mr Biden's statement on the trip is rare, signalling support for the talks and involvement in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The goal is to continue the administration's low-profile but intensive diplomacy that saw more than 80 calls to the region in the past two weeks in efforts to broker a ceasefire.

In an indirect criticism of the his predecessor Donald Trump's approach to the conflict, President Biden said the US is resuming ties and support for the Palestinian Authority after “years of neglect”.

Mr Blinken's meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will be the first from the US side since 2017.

Relations broke off between the PA and the Trump Administration in 2018.

Mr Biden said the trip will include co-ordinating “an international effort to ensure immediate assistance reaches Gaza in a way that benefits the people there and not Hamas, and on reducing the risk of further conflict in the coming months”.

The US is planning a reconstruction conference for Gaza with Egypt, regional and European partners that would guarantee aid and support through the PA and UN.

Securing such a mechanism has been a challenge.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Hady Amr remains in the region and helped lay the groundwork for Mr Blinken’s first trip to the Middle East.

The State Department said Mr Blinken will begin his trip in Jerusalem, meeting Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and other senior Israeli officials.

In Ramallah, he is slated to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and other senior officials.

Continuing US-Egypt co-operation on the issue, Mr Blinken's trip to Cairo will see meetings with President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, then on to Jordan to meet King Abdullah and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ayman Al Safadi.

The US official said reconstruction and aid efforts for Gaza will be discussed during Mr Blinken’s stop in Egypt.

Mr Al Safadi visited Washington two weeks ago to co-ordinate the ceasefire.

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