Blinken in Qatar on tour to seek 'enduring end' to war on Gaza

AFP , Tuesday 6 Feb 2024

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Qatar on Tuesday on his latest Middle East crisis tour, seeking a new ceasefire and "an enduring end" to the Israeli war on Gaza.

Qatar - Blinken
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (3rd-L) Qatar s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (3rd-R) at Lusail Palace, in Doha on February 6, 2024. AFP


The US top envoy was later bound for Israel, hoping to shore up support for a truce deal that was hashed out in Paris in January but has not yet been signed off on by either Hamas or Israel.

Gaza has endured nearly four months of relentless Israeli bombardment, that has killed at least 107 people in the past 24 hours alone, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Fears grew for more than a million Palestinians crowded into the far southern Rafah area as the battlefront draws ever closer in Israel's bloody ground invasion as the death toll in the territory continues to mount.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant warned on Monday that the military "will reach places where we have not yet fought... right up to the last Hamas bastion, which is Rafah", on the Egyptian border.

Palestinian Raed al-Bardani, 32, who has been displaced multiple times and now lives in Rafah with his wife and four children, charged that "the goal is to destroy Rafah because it is the only area that the occupation has not yet destroyed".

"Where will we go if they storm Rafah?" he asked.

Blinken -- on his fifth regional tour since the war on Gaza broke out -- earlier met Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi in Cairo, a day after he held talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh.

Blinken and Sisi "discussed ongoing efforts to secure the release of all hostages held by Hamas," said State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller.

The US envoy also "expressed appreciation for Egypt's leadership role in facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in Gaza".

And Blinken emphasised Washington's "rejection of any forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza and commitment to establishing a Palestinian state that provides peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike", Miller said.

'Beyond catastrophic'

Israeli troops, with air and naval support, have unleashed carnage in Gaza's main southern city of Khan Younis, much of which has been reduced to rubble.

The Palestinian health ministry says Israel's deadly ground invasion and relentless bombardment have killed at least 27,585 people in Gaza, mostly women and children.

"No place is safe, no place at all -- where shall we go?" one Palestinian, Mohamad Kozaat, said after six members of his family were wounded in an Israeli strike on Rafah.

"The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is beyond catastrophic," said Tommaso Della Longa, spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

He said around 8,000 displaced people had been evacuated from the besieged Al-Amal hospital in Khan Younis, where they had sought refuge, after weeks of heavy shelling and fighting nearby.

The United States has strongly backed its top regional ally Israel with munitions and diplomatic support but also urged steps to reduce civilian casualties.

The truce Blinken is hoping to seal proposes a six-week pause to the Israeli invasion as Hamas frees captives in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and more aid for Gaza, according to a Hamas source.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has faced divisions within his cabinet and public fury over the fate of the remaining captives, said Israel "will not accept" demands Hamas has made for an exchange involving thousands of prisoners.

Houthi attacks

As the war on Gaza has raged, violence has also flared in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, where Iran-backed groups have launched attacks in support of Palestinians in the besieged territory, triggering counterattacks by Israel and the United States and its partners.

Dutch Foreign Minister Hanke Bruins Slot, on a visit to Iraq, recalled that US President Joe Biden had "made it clear not to seek further escalation, and that is crucial. I call on all actors to do the same."

The Israeli army said strikes from Lebanon lightly wounded two soldiers and that it retaliated with artillery "and struck the sources of the fire". Its fighter jets had also targeted Hezbollah bases near Marwahin and Meiss El Jabal in southern Lebanon.

Yemen's Houthis have for weeks been targeting Israel-linked ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden to pressure Israel to halt its ground invasion and allow unfettered aid access for Gaza.

The attacks have disrupted global trade and prompted reprisals by US and British forces, including strikes on two "explosive-laden drone boats" on Monday, according to the US military.

The Houthis said Tuesday they had struck US and British commercial ships in two separate attacks.

Houthi spokesman Yahya Saree said "the first attack targeted the American ship Star Nasia, while the other targeted the British ship Morning Tide".

Netanyahu vowed on Monday that "a complete victory will deal a fatal blow" not just to Hamas but also to other Iran-backed militant groups across the region.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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