On Tuesday (May 25), US Secretary of State Antony Blinken started a Middle East visit in Israel, aiming to strengthen its truce with Gaza’s ruling Hamas militants and accelerate humanitarian assistance to the ravaged Palestinian enclave.
Along with Blinken’s mission, Israeli authorities announced that they were allowing gasoline, drugs, and food destined for Gaza’s private sector to enter the region for the first time since the 11-day cross-border conflict began on May 10.
Blinken was also due to visit Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, Cairo and Amman, with the United States harbouring “every hope and expectation” the ceasefire would continue to hold, a senior State Department official said.
“Our primary focus is on maintaining the ceasefire, getting the assistance to the people who need it,” said the official, who spoke on Monday on the condition of anonymity. Egypt brokered the truce, in coordination with the United States.
However, the official indicated that broader peace negotiations between Israel, which is in political turmoil after four inconclusive elections in two years, and the Palestinians, who are torn by enmity between Hamas and Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas, were premature.
US President Joe Biden has stated that a two-state settlement is the best way to resolve the Israel-Palestinian crisis, and he has promised a large package with other countries to assist in the reconstruction of Gaza. In 2014, Israeli-Palestinian peace talks came to an end.
Blinken’s agenda included talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Tuesday and a meeting with Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Blinken is expected to stay in the area until Thursday.
Right-wing Netanyahu, who typically denies using the word “Palestinian state” has been essentially in lockstep with Democrat Biden’s Republican predecessor Donald Trump, who cut off US assistance to the Palestinians and supported a peace strategy that called on Israel to keep much of its West Bank settlements.
On May 10, Hamas, which is considered a militant organisation by the West and opposes any Palestinian peace talks with Israel, launched cross-border rocket attacks, prompting Israeli air strikes.
Israeli police raids on the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, as well as clashes with Palestinians during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, sparked the violence.
According to health officials, at least 253 people were killed and over 1,900 were injured in Gaza during the worst Israeli-Palestinian war in years.
The Israeli military placed the death toll in Israel at 13, with hundreds of people injured after rocket salvos sparked confusion and sending people as far away as Tel Aviv running for cover.
By the time the truce was declared, commercial structures, apartment towers, and private homes in the Gaza Strip, home to 2 million residents, had been damaged or killed.
Israel claims that its air strikes targeted valid military targets and that it did everything possible to prevent civilian casualties, including providing advance notice as it was about to attack residential buildings that it said often served a military purpose.
Palestinian officials put reconstruction costs at tens of millions of dollars in Gaza. Israel has blockaded the territory since 2007, in what Palestinians condemn as collective punishment. Egypt also maintains restrictions on its border with Gaza. Both countries cite security concerns for the measures.