Blinken stresses 'imperative' need to protect Gazans when Israeli offensive resumes

US Secretary of State's visit did little to satisfy Palestinians

Antony Blinken tours Middle East as Gaza truce hangs in the balance

Antony Blinken tours Middle East as Gaza truce hangs in the balance
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Israel that civilians in southern Gaza must be protected before the country resumes its military offensive.

Mr Blinken met Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday in his third trip to the region since Hamas militants carried out their deadly attack on October 7, during which they killed more than 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped close to 240.

In his meeting with Mr Netanyahu, Mr Blinken reiterated Washington’s support for Israel, while at the same time stressing the need for humanitarian aid to reach those in need in Gaza.

“I made clear that before Israel resumes major military operations, it must put in place humanitarian civilian protection plans that minimise further casualties,” Mr Blinken told a press conference in Tel Aviv late on Thursday.

Washington is pushing to extend the seven-day truce that has seen Hamas release 97 hostages - 73 Israelis and 24 foreign citizens - from captivity in the Gaza Strip in exchange for more than 200 Palestinian detainees.

“Our immediate focus is working with our partners to extend the pause so that we can continue to get more hostages out of Gaza and more assistance in,” Mr Blinken told reporters.

He also stressed to Mr Netanyahu the need to rein in extremist settlers who have attacked Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, forcing more than 1,000 people from their homes since October 7.

Mr Blinken said the US remains focused on getting hostages home and welcomed the progress made over the past week.

He reiterated Washington's support for a two-state solution with Palestinians “living in peace, freedom and security alongside Israel”.

After meeting with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem, Mr Blinken travelled to Ramallah where he met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

His visit to the West Bank was met with protest from Palestinians, who vented their frustration with US foreign policy by demonstrating in the streets of the bustling city.

A few dozen people gathered at Al Manara Square in the centre of the Palestinian Authority's administrative capital and protested against Mr Blinken’s visit.

“I want the world to know, Arab, Muslims, Asians, Africans, that America is the real enemy of Palestinians,” said Saeed Daoud, who held a photo of Mr Blinken with a swastika drawn on it – a fairly common site at such demonstrations.

Despite the modest shift in tone from US President Joe Biden's administration in recent weeks, Palestinians feel forgotten and overlooked.

“I'm not optimistic regarding the visit today,” said Ahmed Hajjaj, 21, a paramedic. “If he really wanted to do something, he's not going to be waiting for this visit – he will have done it already.”

Inside a small mobile phone shop a few dozen metres from where the protesters had gathered, Rasem Jayosi sat on a brown leather sofa.

The 67-year-old said he has noticed a slight shift in the US approach to the war, but not nearly enough to satisfy him.

“There's more pressure from the world and their people regarding what's happening with the Zionist terrorism,” Mr Jayosi told The National.

“And this is where it might be that there will be a new formula for that and things might be changing.”

Mr Blinken and Mr Abbas discussed a host of issues including the need to improve “security and freedom for Palestinians in the West Bank”, the US State Department said in a readout of the meeting.

The US Secretary of State pressed the President to overhaul the Palestinian Authority.

“I had an opportunity to discuss today with President Abbas the need to reform and the need to revitalise the Palestinian Authority so that it can most effectively meet the aspirations of the Palestinian people,” he said.

Updated: December 01, 2023, 8:44 AM