Fri. May 17th, 2024

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived Monday in Riyadh at the start of a new crisis tour aimed at pushing an elusive Israel-Hamas ceasefire and increasing humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

The top US diplomat will also visit Jordan and Israel on his seventh visit to the region since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel which set off a relentless Israeli military campaign in Gaza.

In Saudi Arabia, Blinken is expected to hold new talks with the Saudi leadership on potential normalisation of relations with Israel, a State Department official said.

Saudi Arabia was considering the step — which would carry massive significance as the kingdom is guardian of Islam’s two holiest sites — before October 7.

The United States has sought to keep up momentum, dangling the prospect of normalisation to encourage moderation by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a longtime opponent of Palestinian statehood.

Blinken will also meet in Riyadh with a number of Gulf Arab and European foreign ministers who are vsiiting for a World Economic Forum meeting and Gulf Cooperation Council talks.

Blinken will discuss with the countries “day-after” plans for reconstruction of post-war Gaza, the State Department official said.

Plans could include funding to rebuild Gaza — the vast majority of whose people have been displaced — or support for installing new governance structures as Israel pursues its goal of wiping out Hamas.

Blinken arrived hours after President Joe Biden and Netanyahu spoke by telephone about ongoing talks to halt Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip in return for the release of hostages.

Egypt, Qatar and the United States have been trying to mediate a new truce between Israel and Hamas for months, as public pressure mounts for a deal.

Biden also reiterated concerns about Israel launching an operation in Rafah, the southern Gaza city where more than one million Palestinians have taken shelter.

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