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

AP , AFP , Monday 29 Apr 2024

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.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a Joint Ministerial Meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council and US to discuss the humanitarian crises faced in Gaza, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Monday, April 29, 2024. AP


Blinken said that he would use his current Middle East trip — his seventh to the region since the Israeli war on Gaza started in October — to press that case with Israeli leaders.

Speaking to Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers in Riyadh, Blinken said the best way to ease the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza would be to conclude an elusive cease-fire agreement that would release captives held in Gaza. But, in the meantime, he said it was critical to improve conditions now.

“The most effective way to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, to alleviate the suffering of children, women and men, and to create space for a more just and durable solution is to get a cease-fire and the hostages out," he said.

"But we’re also not waiting on a cease-fire to take the necessary steps to meet the needs of civilians in Gaza,” Blinken said. He said that because President Joe Biden has been insisting that Israel do more, including in his phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, there had been improvements, although not nearly enough.

“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.

“We need to improve deconfliction with humanitarian assistance workers. And we have to find greater efficiency and greater safety and deconfliction is at the heart of that. And, finally we have to make sure that we’re focusing not just on inputs, but on impact.”

Scores of relief workers have been killed since the conflict began, and a deadly Israeli attack on a World Central Kitchen aid convoy in Gaza this month only highlighted the dangers and difficulties of protecting them. 

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

Threat from Iran

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

He called Monday for tighter defence integration among Gulf Arabs in response to Iran, part of efforts to encourage moderation by Israel by dangling the prospect of better ties with the region.

"This attack highlights the acute and growing threat from Iran but also the imperative that we work together on integrated defence," Blinken told Gulf Cooperation Council ministers meeting in Riyadh.

Blinken said the United States would hold talks in the coming weeks with the six-nation bloc on integrating air and missile defence and boosting maritime security.

He added that the region had a choice on its future, including "one ridden with divisions and destruction and violence and permanent instability".

Gulf Arabs, through their meeting with the United States, were choosing "greater integration" and "greater peace", he said.

Blinken was expected to meet later Monday with Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to seek to push forward normalisation.

Washington has hoped to use the prospect of Saudi ties to encourage compromise by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a longtime foe of a Palestinian state who has also sought to highlight his role in building relations with the Arab world.

Qatar has played a key role in talks that aim to halt the fighting between Israel and Hamas and release captives.

Opening the meeting, Qatar's prime minister and foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, said the "international community's failure to find a solution to the Palestinian cause" presents one of the "most significant" challenges to regional security.

Blinken told the Gulf Arab nations that he would press for a Palestinian state and more humanitarian access into Gaza.

"The most effective way to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, to alleviate the suffering," Blinken said, "and to create space for a more just and durable solution, is to get a ceasefire and the hostages home."

Blinken, who will later head to Jordan and Israel, arrived hours after President Joe Biden and Netanyahu spoke by telephone about ceasefire talks.

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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