Antony Blinken praises Egyptian ceasefire mediation on Cairo visit

US Secretary of State ends trip to shore up Gaza truce with stop in Jordan, where King Abdullah warns of 'provocative Israeli transgressions'

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday praised Egypt as a “real and effective partner” in ending the 11-day war between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

During the last stop of his Middle East tour, Mr Blinken was told by King Abdullah II in Jordan that the "continuation of the provocative Israel transgressions" in Jerusalem "led to the latest escalation."

"It is necessary to preserve the existing legal and historical situation in Jerusalem and its holy places, and not touch it," the king him, according to the official Jordanian news agency.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Blinken met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi in Cairo.

Egypt and Jordan are among the biggest recipients of US aid, and they share borders with the occupied territory in Gaza and the West Bank.

Mr Blinken is the most senior official to visit the two countries since President Joe Biden took office in January.

He spent nearly two hours with Mr El Sisi before meeting US embassy staff.

"We've had in Egypt a real and effective partner in dealing with the violence, bringing it to a close relatively quickly," Mr Blinken said after meeting the Egyptian president.

He said he had a long discussion with Mr El Sisi about Cairo's human rights record and raised the issue of Americans who have been detained in the country.

Mr Blinken told embassy staff that the US and Egypt “believe strongly that Palestinians and Israelis deserve equally to live in safety and security to enjoy equal measures of freedom, opportunity and dignity. And we’re working on that together”.

The Egyptian presidency said Mr El Sisi told Mr Blinken that the "latest developments emphasise the importance of immediate action to resume direct negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis, with effective American involvement to get them back to the negotiating table".

The two sides also agreed to bolster co-ordination to strengthen the ceasefire between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas militants, and start reconstruction in the coastal enclave.

Mr Blinken’s stop in Egypt, along with the two recent phone calls between the two countries’ presidents, indicated warming ties between the allies.

It helped to ease Cairo’s concerns over matters including the Biden administration’s opposition to Russian arms deals.

Egypt and Jordan signed peace treaties with Israel in 1979 and 1994, and have traditionally been involved in Middle East peace negotiations, which have been abandoned for years.

Mr Blinken has pledged to “rally international support” to rebuild the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip after the latest war with Israel.

He also promised to make sure that international aid destined for Gaza does not reach Hamas, which the US and Israel call a terrorist group.

epa09228652 A handout photo made available by the Egyptian Presidency shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C) meeting with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken (3-L) in Cairo, Egypt, 26 May 2021. Blinken is visiting the Middle East days after an Egypt-brokered truce halted fighting between Israel and Gaza militants.  EPA/EGYPTIAN PRESIDENCY HANDOUT  HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

Instead, the US is seeking to strengthen Hamas’s rival, the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority, whose standing among Palestinians was hit during the latest conflict because of its perceived inability to help those in Jerusalem.

Mr Blinken has made it clear that this tour was not meant to revive peace negotiations, but rather to rebuild Gaza and lower the tension in Jerusalem that sparked the war.

Bit in Cairo he acknowledged that a “better environment” could allow negotiations to resume.

In Gaza, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar said on Wednesday that the group welcomed international aid as long as it did not come from Israel, and it had no objections to international supervision of the funds, AP reported.

"I emphasise our commitment in Hamas that we will not take a single penny earmarked for rebuilding or humanitarian issues,” he said.

Mr Sinwar, who has close ties with the group's armed wing, said Hamas receives ample military assistance from outside sources, led by Iran.

“When I said we do not take money destined for aid, this is because we have comfortable sources of funds covering our activities,” he said.

Mr Sinwar criticised Mr Blinken for trying to strengthen the Palestinian Authority at Hamas's expense.

“They are trying to add more fuel to the fire of Palestinian divisions,” he claimed.

The truce that ended the Gaza war last week has so far held, but it did not address any of the deeper issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

They include a right-wing Israeli leadership unwilling to make key concessions, Palestinian divisions, and years of mistrust and deeply rooted tensions surrounding Jerusalem and its holy sites.

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict, as the capital of a future state.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, in a move not recognised by most of the international community, and claims the entire city as its capital.

Before the war between Israel and Hamas, which was the fourth since the militant group took over Gaza in 2007, there was nightly violence in Jerusalem over the possible eviction of Palestinian families from the Arab district of Sheikh Jarrah.