Antony Blinken arrives in Saudi Arabia for sixth Middle East tour since October

US Secretary of State will also visit Egypt and Israel, where he will discuss negotiations for the release of hostages

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah. AP
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken touched down in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Wednesday to start his sixth trip to the Middle East since the Israel-Gaza war started in October.

Mr Blinken arrived in the region at a time when the gulf between the US and Israel over a potential military campaign in Rafah appears to be at its widest since Israel declared war on Hamas following the October 7 attacks.

Israel has been adamant that to defeat Hamas, it must go into Rafah, a city in the southern end of Gaza on the border with Egypt. More than one million Palestinians are sheltering in the city after being displaced within the densely populated enclave.

Washington has repeatedly expressed concern and called on Israel to deliver a plan that accounts for the safety of civilians in the city that has become their last refuge.

On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset that despite what he called a “debate” with the US, it would still be necessary for the military to embark on a ground operation into Rafah.

While in the region, Mr Blinken is expected to raise concern over the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

“We continue to face a horrific humanitarian situation for children, for women, for men in Gaza,” Mr Blinken told reporters in the Philippines on Tuesday, before departing for Jeddah.

“It is also absolutely incumbent on Israel, as it acts to defend itself and prevent October 7 from happening again, to make it a priority to protect civilians … and to provide for those who desperately need humanitarian assistance.”

In Saudi Arabia, Mr Blinken is expected to discuss issues including efforts to reach a deal that would see Hamas release hostages in exchange for an immediate ceasefire and “co-ordination on post-conflict planning for Gaza, including ensuring Hamas can no longer govern or repeat the attacks of October 7, a political path for the Palestinian people with security assurances with Israel, and an architecture for lasting peace and security in the region”, the State Department said.

Mr Blinken is expected to travel to Cairo on Thursday and then to Israel on Friday, a stop that was only recently added to his itinerary.

“In Israel, Secretary Blinken will discuss with the leadership of the government … the ongoing negotiations to secure the release of all hostages,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

'Kibbutz Blinken' protesters set up camp across the street from Secretary of State's house – video

Protesters set up camp across the street from Antony Blinken's house

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Updated: March 21, 2024, 3:36 AM