Blinken arrives in Egypt at start of Middle East tour as violence escalates

Secretary of State aims to defuse Palestinian-Israeli conflict following a week of deadly violence

Antony Blinken's Middle East visit started in Cairo on Sunday. Photo: US State Department
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Cairo on Sunday, starting a Middle East tour that will also take him to Jerusalem and the West Bank in an effort to end Palestinian-Israeli clashes.

Mr Blinken will meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on Monday before departing for Jerusalem.

In Cairo, Mr Blinken will discuss Washington’s strategic partnership with Egypt and “promote peace and security in the region, including through shared support for elections in Libya and the ongoing Sudanese-led political process”, the US State Department said.

Egypt, which shares a border with both Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip, has for long mediated between Israeli and Palestinians during times of crisis. The role is aided by Egypt’s close security and counterterrorism co-operation with Israel, with which it signed a peace treaty in 1979.

Mr Blinken’s visit comes after CIA Director William Burns paid a short visit to Egypt last week for talks with the Egyptian leader, who returns home on Sunday from a five-day tour of India, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Egypt and the US have been bound by close relations dating to the late 1970s. Cairo has since received hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of military and economic assistance.

The US has unsuccessfully sought for years to mediate a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel have been frozen for years, with tension frequently flaring into violence.

Mr Blinken will visit Jerusalem and Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

In Jerusalem, he is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and other senior leaders to discuss enduring US support for Israel’s security, particularly against threats from Iran, according to the State Department.

“The Secretary will also discuss Israel’s deepening integration into the region, Israeli-Palestinian relations and the importance of a two-state solution, and a range of other global and regional issues,” it said.

Mr Blinken had long planned the visit to see Israel's new right-wing government led by Mr Netanyahu, but this week’s trip takes on a new urgency after some of the worst violence in years.

A Palestinian gunman on Friday killed seven people outside a synagogue in East Jerusalem, and another attack followed on Saturday.

On Thursday, nine people were killed when Israeli troops raided the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank in one of the deadliest such operations in years.

Israel said it was seeking Islamic Jihad militants. The Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip was hit by air strikes in response to rocket fire.

In his meetings in Jerusalem and Ramallah, Mr Blinken will be trying to use US influence to de-escalate tension, according to State Department spokesman Vedant Patel.

Mr Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, had a fraught relationship with the last Democrat president, Barack Obama, as the Israeli leader openly sided with his Republican adversaries.

In Ramallah, Mr Blinken is expected to reiterate to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Washington’s support for a Palestinian state, a prospect that few expect to advance under the new Israeli government.

The State Department said Mr Blinken would also call for the preservation of the status quo at the flashpoint Al Aqsa Mosque compound.

In early January, Itamar Ben-Gvir, a far-right politician who holds the post of national security minister in Mr Netanyahu's government, defiantly visited the site.

Updated: January 30, 2023, 4:01 AM