Blinken rallies Mideast leaders to prepare for post-war Gaza as bombardment, fighting continue to rage

AP , Tuesday 9 Jan 2024

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken faced tough talks with Israeli leaders on Gaza's post-war future Tuesday, while Israel's military pushed ahead with its aggression in the territory. Heavy bombardment shook refugee camps, sending Palestinians scrambling to find safety and hampering aid groups’ efforts to get relief to the population.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets Israeli President Isaac Herzog in Tel Aviv, Israel
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets Israeli President Isaac Herzog in Tel Aviv, Israel. AP


U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that four key Arab nations and Turkey have agreed to begin planning for the reconstruction and governance of Gaza once Israel’s war against Hamas ends.

Blinken, who is on an urgent Mideast mission aimed primarily at preventing the conflict from spreading as fears rise of a regional war, said Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey would consider participating in and contributing to “day after” scenarios for the Palestinian territory, which has been devastated by three months of deadly Israeli bombardment.

Those countries had previously resisted U.S. calls for post-war planning to begin, insisting that there must first be a cease-fire and a sharp reduction in the civilian suffering caused by Israel’s war on Gaza.

But on what is now his fourth trip to the Mideast since the war began in October, Blinken said those countries are ready to start such planning and that each would consider its own involvement in whatever is eventually decided upon.

“Everywhere I went, I found leaders who are determined to prevent the conflict that we’re facing now from spreading, doing everything possible to deter escalation to prevent a widening of the conflict,” Blinken told reporters travelling with him.

Blinken made the comments after meeting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Saudi royal's winter camp outside the ancient incense-route trading city of Al Ula in western Saudi Arabia. Blinken had earlier visited Turkey, Greece, Jordan, Qatar and the UAE.

The leaders of those countries "agreed to work together and to coordinate our efforts to help Gaza stabilize and recover, to chart a political path forward for the Palestinians and to work toward long-term peace, security and stability in the region as a whole," Blinken said.

He said they “are prepared to make the necessary commitments to make the hard decisions to advance all of these objectives to advance this vision for the region.”

Blinken did not offer specifics on potential contributions. 

Arab states have been highly critical of Israel and have eschewed public support for long-term planning, arguing that the fighting must end before such discussions can begin. They have been demanding a cease-fire since mid-October as civilian casualties began to skyrocket.

Blinken said he would bring the Arab commitments to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war Cabinet as well as Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday and Wednesday before presenting them to Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi and returning to Washington.

Any post-war plan for Gaza will require both Israeli and Palestinian buy-in, but Netanyahu and his government have their own ideas for Gaza’s future that the others will likely not accept.

And, Netanyahu remains opposed to the concept of the two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, something that Saudi Arabia in particular is demanding if it is to normalize relations with Israel.

Blinken said Prince Mohammed remains interested in normalizing relations with Israel “but it will require that the conflict end in Gaza, and it will also clearly require that there be a practical pathway to a Palestinian state.”

“This interest is there, it’s real, and it could be transformative,” he said.

Israel has refused to agree to a cease-fire and the U.S. blocked all UN Security Council resolutions calling for the end of the war and has instead called for specified temporary “humanitarian pauses” to allow aid to get in and people to get to safety.

Another urgent priority for Blinken is to surge humanitarian assistance to Gaza. In Amman, Blinken toured the World Food Program’s regional coordination warehouse, where trucks were being packed with aid to be delivered to Gaza through both the Rafah and Karm Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) crossings.

The U.S. has been pressing Israel for weeks to let greater amounts of food, water, fuel, medicine and other supplies into Gaza, and the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution on Dec. 22 calling for an immediate increase in deliveries. Three weeks ago, Israel opened its Karm Abu Salem crossing, adding a second entry point for aid into Gaza after Rafah.

Still, the rate of trucks entering has not risen significantly. This week, an average of around 120 trucks a day entered through both crossings, according to U.N. figures, far below the 500 trucks of goods going in daily before the war and far below what aid groups say is needed.

Almost the entire population of 2.3 million depends on the trucks coming across the border for their survival. One in four Palestinians in Gaza is starving, and the rest face crisis levels of hunger, according to the U.N.

The United States has pressed Israel to scale down its offensive in Gaza to more precise operations targeting Hamas. But the pace of death and destruction has remained largely the same, with several hundred Palestinians killed a day.

Israel has vowed to keep going until it has destroyed Hamas. Still, after three months of fighting, Hamas, along with other resistance groups continue to put up a fierce fight.

The Israeli occupation army says focus has shifted to the southern city of Khan Younis, where ground troops have been fighting Palestinian resistance for weeks, and several urban refugee camps in central Gaza.

“The fighting will continue throughout 2024,” Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari said.

Since the war began, Israel’s war on Gaza has killed more than 23,200 Palestinians, about two-thirds of them women and children, and more than 58,000 have been wounded.

Throughout the night and into Tuesday morning, warplanes struck multiple areas in and around Khan Younis. Israeli artillery shelling and gunfire echoed through the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, where troops have been pushing in from the north, said one resident, Saeed Moustafa. They were facing heavy resistance from gunmen in the camp, he said.

Like other refugee camps in Gaza, Nuseirat was built to house Palestinians driven out of homes during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation, and over the decades it has been built up into a densely populated town housing refugees and their descendants.

Families in Nuseirat’s northern neighbourhoods were fleeing to other parts of the camp, Moustafa said by phone, with the sound of sporadic gunfire in the background. Some tried to head south on Gaza’s main north-south road but found it blocked by Israeli tanks and turned around, he said. In leaflets, the occupation army had told people evacuating to use another road, along the coast.

The U.N. humanitarian office, known as OCHA, warned that the fighting was severely hampering aid deliveries. Several warehouses, distribution centres, health facilities and shelters have been affected by the military's evacuation orders, it said. Some bakeries in the central city of Deir al-Balah have been forced to shut down. A U.N. warehouse was hit last week, killing a staffer, and five other staffers were detained by the army, with two still held.

The situation is even more dire in northern Gaza, which Israeli forces cut off from the rest of the territory in late October. Tens of thousands of people who remain there face shortages of food and water.

The World Health Organization has been unable to deliver supplies to the north for two weeks. OCHA said the military rejected five attempted aid convoys to the north over that period, including planned deliveries of medical supplies and fuel for water and sanitation facilities.

As Blinken arrived in Israel, exchanges between Israel and Hezbollah continued their spiral since last week's murder of Hamas deputy leader Saleh Arouri in Beirut.

On Tuesday, Hezbollah said its exploding drones targeted the Israeli army's northern command in the town of Safed — deeper into Israel than previous fire by the group. The Israeli army said a drone fell at a base in the north without causing damage. It did not identify the base.

Hezbollah said its drone strike was further retaliation for the killing of Arouri and of a senior Hezbollah commander in an Israeli bombing Monday.

Tuesday morning, an Israeli drone hit a car in southern Lebanon, killing three people inside, security officials in the area and the state news agency said. There was no immediate word on the identities of the three.


Short link: