Blinken meets Palestinian leader after urging Israel to spare Gaza civilians

Israel kept bombing Gaza on Wednesday as US top diplomat Antony Blinken met the head of the Palestinian Authority, which Washington hopes could govern the coastal territory after the war ends.

As the US secretary of state’s motorcade arrived under tight security in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, dozens of protesters held up signs that read “Stop the genocide” and “Free Palestine”.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was later set to discuss a “push for an immediate ceasefire” in talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the Red Sea port city of Aqaba, the Jordanian royal palace said.

The bloodiest ever Gaza war started by the October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel has raged on for more than three months and killed more than 23,000 people in the Hamas-run territory, according to its health ministry.

Global concern has flared over the spiralling humanitarian crisis, and Blinken — while voicing continued US political and military support for its top regional ally Israel — has urged steps to reduce the surging civilian death toll.

Dire shortages brought by an Israeli siege mean the “daily toll on civilians in Gaza, particularly children, is far too high,” the US secretary of state said on Tuesday at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Amid the latest round of US crisis diplomacy, the Gaza war raged on unabated. The Israeli army said it had killed dozens of “terrorists” and hit another 150 targets in Gaza’s central Maghazi and southern Khan Yunis areas.

Troops had found 15 tunnel shafts as well as rocket launchers, missiles, drones and explosives in Al-Maghazi and destroyed machinery for producing the rockets that have been fired at Israel, the army said.

The Gaza health ministry said 70 people were killed and 130 wounded in overnight attacks on the territory of 2.4 million where the United Nations says most people are displaced and at risk of disease and hunger.

– ‘Sacrificed our children’ –

The war started when Hamas launched its unprecedented October 7 attack, which resulted in about 1,140 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Militants also took around 250 hostages, of whom Israel says 132 remain in Gaza including at least 25 believed to have been killed.

Israel has responded with a relentless military campaign that has killed at least 23,210 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

The Israeli army says 186 of its soldiers have been killed inside Gaza.

The United Nations estimates 1.9 million Gazans have been displaced inside the besieged territory that had already endured years of blockade and poverty before the war.

One of them, Hassan Kaskin 55, told AFP: “We have lost our money, our houses, our jobs. We are losing our youths as well. We’ve sacrificed our children for our homeland.”

Blinken is on his fourth tour of the Middle East since the outbreak of the war, with earlier stops in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Washington has floated a post-war scenario in which a reformed Palestinian Authority governs Gaza as well as towns and cities in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967.

Blinken argued that “Israel must be a partner to Palestinian leaders who are willing to lead their people in living side by side in peace with Israel as neighbours”.

Amid a flare-up of violence in the West Bank, Blinken also said that “extremist settler violence carried out with impunity, settlement expansion, demolitions, evictions all make it harder, not easier, for Israel to achieve lasting peace and security”.

He added that “the Palestinian Authority also has a responsibility to reform itself, to improve its governance — issues I plan to raise with president Abbas”.

Netanyahu, who leads what is widely seen as the most right-wing government in Israeli history, has shown no interest in reviving negotiations towards a Palestinian state.

A post-war plan outlined by Defence Minister Yoav Gallant envisions local “civil committees” governing Gaza after Israel has dismantled Hamas.

Blinken declined to say whether Netanyahu’s views had shifted in their discussions.

Hamas, an Islamist movement, seized sole control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, ousting Abbas’s Fatah party, with which it had shared power.

The United States and European Union blacklist Hamas as a “terrorist” organisation.

Hamas’s Qatar-based chief Ismail Haniyeh said last week he was “open to the idea” of a single Palestinian administration in Gaza and the West Bank.

– ‘Complex attack’ –

Blinken also called for “more food, more water, more medicine” to be delivered to Gaza, where only limited humanitarian relief supplies have been arriving from Egypt.

Desperate Gazans on Tuesday climbed onto one truck carrying flour and canned goods and tossed the food to the crowd below, AFP footage showed.

Army spokesman Daniel Hagari said Tuesday that Israel is “ready and willing to facilitate as much humanitarian aid as the world will give”.

“As a moral military committed to international law, we are making vast efforts to minimise harm to the civilians that Hamas has forced into the role of human shields.”

Since the Gaza war started, fears have grown of an escalating conflict between Israel and Iran-backed armed groups, especially Lebanon’s Hezbollah but also groups in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Defence Minister Gallant told Blinken on Tuesday that intensifying pressure on Iran was “critical” and could prevent a regional escalation.

Yemen’s Huthi rebels have carried out numerous attacks on passing container ships in the Red Sea, and the United States has set up a multinational naval task force to protect the vital sea lane.

On Tuesday, the rebels “launched a complex” attack, the US Central Command said, adding that US and British forces had shot down 18 drones and three missiles, with no casualties or damage reported.


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