Top US and EU officials in Middle East in bid to calm tensions

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell are on separate trips to the region

Blinken arrives in Turkey to begin Middle East tour

Blinken arrives in Turkey to begin Middle East tour
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The US and EU's foreign policy chiefs are on separate visits to the Middle East as they seek to de-escalate regional tensions amid Israel's war in Gaza.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Jordan's King Abdullah II on Sunday and was expected to travel on to the UAE, Qatar, Israel and the occupied West Bank. Mr Blinken said he seeking to maximise the protection of civilians in Gaza and increase the flow of humanitarian assistance into the enclave.

Josep Borrell, the EU's top foreign affairs official, arrived in Lebanon on Friday and is set to visit Saudi Arabia. Both Mr Borrell and Mr Blinken have voiced fears about the dangers of a regional escalation.

Jordan's Royal Court said King Abdullah warned of the “catastrophic repercussions” of the continued bombardment of Gaza and stressed the “need to put an end to the tragic humanitarian crisis”.

He reiterated that there would not be stability in the region unless a solution was found to the Palestinian issue, based on a two-state solution.

King Abdullah also highlighted the importance of the US in pressing for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, protecting civilians and facilitating the delivery of aid there.

The State Department said Mr Blinken had underlined US opposition to the forcible displacement of Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza and "the critical need to protect Palestinian civilians in the West Bank from extremist settler violence." Both have surged since October 7.

In Amman, Mr Blinken visited a World Food Programme warehouse storing canned food bound for Gaza.

"We are intensely focused on the very difficult and indeed deteriorating food situation for men, women and children in Gaza, and it's something we're working on 24/7," he said.

Ahead of his fourth visit to the region since the Gaza war re-erupted, Mr Blinken described the situation in the Palestinian enclave as “dire” and said that far too many people had been killed, especially children.

He said: “we have an intense focus on preventing this conflict from spreading”.

On October 7, Hamas fighters launched a surprise attack on southern Israel from Gaza, killing more than 1,100 people and taking about 240 hostages. In response, Israel has pummelled Gaza, killing more than 22,700 people.

Lebanese armed group Hezbollah, an ally of Hamas, has engaged in daily cross-border attacks with Israel's army across its northern border.

"We want to do everything possible to make sure that we don't see escalation there", Mr Blinken said, warning of the need to stop the "endless cycle of violence".

On Tuesday, Israel killed Hamas deputy Saleh Al Arouri in Beirut – the first time it has attacked the Lebanese capital since 2006, leading to fears of a significant escalation. In response to the killing, Hezbollah on Saturday launched more than 60 missiles at an important Israeli military base.

Senior Hezbollah official Hashem Safieddine warned on Sunday that the attack was just the start of reprisals.

"There will be other responses...the enemy must expect it," he said, referring to Israel.

Israel said it had hit Hezbollah "military sites" in response to Saturday's missile attacks. Spokesman Daniel Hagari warned the Iran-backed group against "dragging Lebanon into an unnecessary war".

Hezbollah has significantly more firepower than Hamas and its Palestinian allies.

While both Hezbollah and Israel have suggested they do not want all-out war, both said they are ready for one if it happens.

In Beirut, Mr Borrell said it was “imperative” action is taken “to avoid Lebanon being dragged into a regional conflict”. It's believed he held talks with representatives of Hezbollah's political wing.

While the EU has proscribed Hezbollah's military wing as a terrorist organisation, it has not done so with its political wing.

Mr Borrell had also called for a pause in the Israel-Gaza war, which could become “permanent”, describing the humanitarian situation in the besieged enclave as “beyond catastrophic”.

Updated: January 07, 2024, 3:47 PM