Blinken travelling to Israel and Jordan as Rafah invasion looms

Reports claim secretary was advised Israel's assurances against breaches to international law were not 'credible or reliable'

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at Ben Gurion Airport, Israel, in March. Reuters
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expanding his Middle East trip to Israel and Jordan this week, after Palestinian warnings that Israel's invasion of Rafah could happen within days.

Mr Blinken will travel to Israel and Jordan after his World Economic Forum meetings in Riyadh on Wednesday.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Mr Blinken will focus on the effort to secure a ceasefire in Gaza that includes the release of hostages and ensure humanitarian aid into the enclave continues or increases.

Mr Blinken has travelled to Israel several times since the October 7 Hamas-led attack on the US ally, in which 1,200 people were killed, and its ensuing war in Gaza that has left more than 34,400 Palestinians dead.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday appealed to Washington to block an Israeli Rafah invasion, warning the incursion could come “within days".

“All the Palestinians of Gaza have gathered in Rafah," Mr Abbas told the World Economic Forum in Riyadh.

"A small strike is all it takes to force everyone to leave Palestine … [the US is] the only country that can prevent Israel from perpetrating that crime."

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Sunday sought to play down those warnings, telling US media that Israel has “agreed to listen to US concerns” before moving into Gaza's last enclave of relative respite.

And US President Joe Biden repeated “his clear position” on Rafah in a Sunday call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The White House has warned Israel against an invasion without a strategy to evacuate civilians.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported at the weekend that some senior officials in a leaked memo had formally advised Mr Blinken that they do not find “credible or reliable” Israel's assurances that it is using US-supplied weapons in accordance with international humanitarian law.

A State Department official declined to comment on leaked documents, but told The National on Sunday that “some components in the department favoured accepting Israel’s assurances, some favoured rejecting them, and some took no position".

Josh Paul, a former director at the State Department who resigned in protest against Washington's support for Israel through the Gaza war, said that the report indicates Mr Blinken “is already in breach of the requirements set out by President Biden” in a national security memorandum, called NSM20.

“NSM20 specifically requires the Secretary to notify the President if the assurances are called into question,” Mr Paul said in a joint statement with Palestinian human rights lawyer Noura Erakat.

The State Department official denied that the secretary had acted in violation of US law.

“The department received the assurances that were required by the National Security Memorandum, and we are now preparing a report to Congress,” the official told The National.

“On complex issues, the secretary often hears a diverse range of views from within the department, and he takes all of those views into consideration."

Updated: April 29, 2024, 5:38 AM