CAIRO (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken returns to Israel on Monday to talk “about the way forward” after several days of shuttle diplomacy among Arab countries that he said shared the United States’ determination to ensure Israel’s conflict with Israel. The Palestinian armed movement Hamas does not extend anywhere else in the region.
The top US diplomat arrived in Israel on Thursday – as it prepares for a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip in response to a deadly Hamas attack on civilians – and also visited Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
The conflict has raised international fears that it could spark a wider regional war, with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian warning on Sunday that “the hands of all parties in the region are on the trigger.”
“There is a determination in every country I have been to to make sure this conflict does not spread,” Blinken told reporters as he prepared to leave Cairo. “They are using their influence and their own connections to try to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Behnken met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh on Sunday, and then with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo, where he received a frank assessment from Sisi of Israel’s response to the Hamas attack that killed 1,300 people.
Al-Sisi told Blinken in televised statements that the (Israeli) reaction went beyond the right to self-defense, and turned into collective punishment of 2.3 million people in Gaza.
Israel pledged to eliminate Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, after its fighters stormed Israeli towns eight days ago, shooting men, women and children and taking hostages in the worst attack on civilians in the country’s history.
Israeli aircraft and artillery have already subjected Gaza to the heaviest bombardment it has ever seen, putting the Strip under a complete siege. Gaza authorities say more than 2,450 people were killed.
The United States works on deterrence
International diplomacy has focused on preventing the conflict from spilling over – especially into Lebanon. The United States is specifically trying to deter Iran, which supports Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah group. Hezbollah and Israel have already exchanged fire on the border over the past week.
Blinken said the United States has made clear that state and non-state actors should not exploit the situation.
He added: “We have backed these words with concrete actions, including the deployment of our two largest aircraft carrier battle groups to the region. This is not intended to provoke, but rather to deter.”
“No one should do anything that would add fuel to the fire elsewhere,” Blinken added.
Before leaving for Cairo, Blinken described his talks with the Saudi Crown Prince, one of the most powerful leaders in the region, as “very productive.” A US official said the meeting lasted just under an hour.
The official Saudi Press Agency reported that the Crown Prince stressed during the meeting the need to find ways to stop the conflict and respect international law, including lifting the Israeli siege on Gaza.
Blinken said in Cairo that the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza will be reopened.
“We are now very actively engaged with countries in the region, with the United Nations and Israel, to make sure as much as possible that people can get out of harm’s way and that the help they need, the food, water and medicine can get in,” he said.
(Reporting by Humeira Pamuk, Aziz Al-Yaqoubi, Hatem Maher and Ahmed Tolba – Prepared by Muhammad for the Arabic Bulletin – Prepared by Muhammad Al-Yaqoubi for the Arabic Bulletin) Writing by Michelle Nichols. Edited by William Mallard, David Evans, Emilia Sithole-Matarese, Bill Berkrot, and Sandra Maler
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