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Blinken says Abbas ‘committed’ to reform his administration

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11 January 2024, The Australian, by Mai Yaghi and Leon Bruneau

Top US diplomat Antony Blinken overnight on Wednesday said Mahmoud Abbas was committed to reforming the Palestinian Authority to potentially reunite war-torn Gaza and the disputed West Bank under its leadership.

Mr Blinken laid out Gaza’s possible future after meeting the Palestinian Authority President in Ramallah and Bahrain’s King Hamad in his fourth Middle East tour aimed at preventing the Israel-Hamas war from escalating.

The bloodiest ever Gaza war has raged since the unprecedented Hamas attacks against Israel on October 7, and has killed more than 23,000 people in the besieged Palestinian territory, according to its health ministry.

Mr Abbas raised with Mr Blinken the need “to stop the Israeli aggression against Palestinian people” in Hamas-ruled Gaza and the West Bank, where deadly unrest has also surged, the Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.

Mr Blinken told Mr Abbas that Washington supports “tangible steps” towards the creation of a Palestinian state – a long-term goal which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right government has opposed.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Mr Blinken had reiterated the US position that a Palestinian state must stand alongside Israel, “with both living in peace and security”.

As Mr Blinken arrived under tight security at Mr Abbas’s headquarters in Ramallah, protesters held up signs reading “Stop the genocide”, “Free Palestine” and “Blinken out”. Some scuffled with security forces in riot gear.

In Bahrain, Mr Blinken said Mr Abbas was “committed” to reforming the Palestinian Authority “so that it can effectively take responsibility for Gaza, so that Gaza and the West Bank can be reunited under a Palestinian leadership”. Washington sees a future in Gaza for the PA, whose ruling Fatah faction is a Hamas rival. But Mr Netanyahu has long sought to weaken the semi-autonomous body.

On Wednesday evening, Mr Netanyahu said in televised remarks that “Israel has no intention of permanently occupying Gaza or displacing its civilian population”. “Israel is fighting Hamas terrorists, not the Palestinian population, and we are doing so in full compliance with international law,” he said, speaking in English.

Hamas, an Islamist movement designated as “terrorist” by the US, Australia and the EU, seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, ousting Fatah, with which it had shared power after sweeping parliamentary elections.

Hamas’s Qatar-based chief, ­Ismail Haniyeh, said last week he was “open to the idea” of a single Palestinian administration in Gaza and the West Bank.

A post-war plan outlined by ­Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant envisions local “civil committees” governing Gaza after ­Israel has dismantled Hamas.

King Hamad emphasised the need for a ceasefire, releasing hostages and detainees and delivering aid to Gazans in his talks with Mr Blinken, according to Bahrain’s news agency.

The US envoy is due to visit Egypt after stops in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It comes as Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Mr Abbas called to “maintain pressure” for a ceasefire and to protect Palestinian civilians following discussions in the Jordanian city of Aqaba, the royal palace said.

Fears have soared of a widening conflict between Israel and Iran-backed armed groups, especially Lebanon’s Hezbollah but also groups in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. “After fighting in Gaza, we will know what to do in Lebanon if necessary,” Israeli army chief of staff Herzi Halevi said on Wednesday.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels have carried out numerous attacks on merchant ships in the Red Sea.

The war erupted when Hamas launched its unprecedented October 7 attack, which resulted in about 1140 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians. Militants also took about 250 hostages, of whom Israel says 132 remain in Gaza including at least 25 believed to be dead.

Israel has responded with a military campaign that has killed at least 23,357 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. The Israeli army says 186 of its soldiers have been killed inside Gaza in its campaign to destroy Hamas. It said it killed dozens of “terrorists” and hit another 150 targets in Gaza, where the health ministry said 147 people had been killed over the previous 24 hours.


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Article source: 11 January 2024, The Australian, by Mai Yaghi and Leon Bruneau

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000