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Blinken says Israel still must do more to boost humanitarian aid to Gaza

AP Diplomatic Writer

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that Israel must still do more to increase the flow of humanitarian aid into the besieged Gaza Strip and that he would use his Middle East trip — his seventh to the region since the Israel-Hamas war started in October — to press that case with Israeli leaders.

Speaking at events in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Blinken said the best way to ease the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza would be to conclude an elusive cease-fire agreement, which also would release Israeli hostages held by Hamas since its Oct. 7 attacks launched the war. Hamas has been presented with an “extraordinarily generous” offer by Israel that he hoped the group would accept, he said.

“Hamas has before it a proposal that is extraordinarily, extraordinarily generous on the part of Israel, and in this moment, the only thing standing between the people of Gaza and cease-fire is Hamas,” he said at a World Economic Forum gathering in Riyadh.

“They have to decide, and they have to decide quickly. So, we’re looking to that, and I’m hopeful that they will make the right decision and we can have a fundamental change in the dynamic,” Blinken said.

Although talks continue, Hamas has so far balked at a series of offers negotiated by Egypt, Qatar and the United States and agreed to by Israel. Even without a deal, Blinken said it was critical to improve conditions in Gaza now.

“We’re also not waiting on a cease-fire to take the necessary steps to meet the needs of civilians in Gaza,” Blinken told Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers earlier Monday, when he arrived in Saudi Arabia for the first stop on his Middle East tour, which includes stops in Jordan and Israel on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We have seen measurable progress in the last few weeks, including the opening of new crossings and increased volume of aid delivery to Gaza and within Gaza, and the building of the U.S. maritime corridor, which will open in the coming weeks. But it is not enough. We still need to get more aid in and around Gaza,” he said.

He said safety for humanitarian relief workers must be improved and that there’s a focus on ensuring the aid is making a proper impact for Palestinian civilians.

Scores of relief workers have been killed since the conflict began, and an Israeli attack on a World Central Kitchen convoy in Gaza this month that killed seven aid workers only highlighted the dangers and difficulties of protecting them. Israel has said the strike was a mistake and has disciplined officials involved.

World Central Kitchen said it would resume operations in Gaza on Monday after a four-week suspension.

Blinken, who also is meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Monday, has his work cut out for him.

The war in Gaza has ground on with little end in sight: More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed, hundreds of thousands more are displaced and a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is worsening.

The conflict has fueled mass protests around the world that have spread to American college campuses. U.S. support for Israel, particularly arms transfers, has come under particular criticism, something the administration is keenly aware poses potential problems for U.S. President Joe Biden in an election year.

Blinken’s trip comes as there are renewed concerns about the conflict spreading in the Middle East and with once-promising prospects for Israeli-Saudi rapprochement effectively on hold as Israel refuses to consider one of the Saudis’ main conditions for normalized relations: the creation of a Palestinian state.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has been warning Israel against a major military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians have fled to escape fighting farther north. Israel has not yet launched such an offensive, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said that one will take place, asserting that it is the only way to wipe out Hamas.

Both topics were discussed during a Biden-Netanyahu phone call on Sunday, according to the White House and U.S. officials.

During his trip, Blinken said he would also underscore the absolute importance of not allowing the Israel-Hamas conflict to engulf the region.

The danger of conflagration was underscored this month when a suspected Israeli attack on an Iranian consular building in Syria prompted an unprecedented direct missile and drone response by Iran against Israel. An apparent retaliatory Israeli strike on Iran followed.

Although the tit-for-tat cycle appears to have ended for now, deep concerns remain that Iran or its proxies in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria or Yemen could act in such a way as to provoke a greater response from Israel or that Israel might take action that Iran feels it must retaliate for.


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