US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged “calm and de-escalation” of tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, amid a flare-up of violence in the conflict.
Mr Blinken urged “all parties to calm things down and de-escalate tensions” after arriving in Cairo, the first stop on a Middle East tour that will also include visits to Jerusalem and Ramallah.
He also pointed to the “importance of working for a two-state solution”.
Mr Blinken had long planned the visit to see Israel’s new government, but the trip has taken on new urgency after some of the worst violence in years.
A Palestinian gunman on Friday killed seven people outside a synagogue in a settler neighbourhood of east Jerusalem, and another attack followed on Saturday. Ten people were killed in an Israeli army raid on Thursday on the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, in one of the deadliest such operations.
Israel said it was targeting Islamic Jihad militants and later hit sites in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire.
Israel on Sunday prepared to demolish the east Jerusalem family home of the Synagogue gunman as part of measures to punish the relatives of attackers.
In the first concrete move, Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet said the east Jerusalem home of 21-year-old Khayri Alqam – shot dead by police following Friday’s attack – “will be sealed immediately ahead of its demolition”.
Mr Blinken will meet Mr Netanyahu and Palestine Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and call “broadly for steps to be taken to de-escalate tensions”, State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said as he condemned the “horrific” synagogue attack.
“We’ve seen horrific terrorist attacks in the last couple of days that we condemn and deplore,” Mr Blinken told Saudi TV channel Al Arabiya
“The most important thing in the near term is to try to get some calm.”
The violence was also likely to have figured in talks on Monday between Mr Blinken and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, whose country’s role as a Middle East mediator has helped him remain a key US partner despite President Joe Biden’s criticism of his human rights record.
The US, with its close relationship to Israel, has historically taken a lead on Middle East diplomacy, but experts questioned whether Mr Blinken could achieve any breakthroughs.
“The absolute best they can do is to keep things stable to avoid another May 2021,” said Aaron David Miller, a veteran US negotiator, referring to 11 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas that ended with an Egypt-brokered ceasefire.
Ghaith al-Omari, a former Palestinian official now at The Washington Institute, expected Mr Blinken to repeat traditional US positions rather than break new ground. “The trip itself is the message,” he said. “Blinken will ask Abbas to do more but it is not clear what they can do.”
Mr Blinken’s visit is part of the Biden administration’s efforts to engage quickly with Mr Netanyahu, who returned to office last month leading Israel’s most right-wing government.
Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister had a fraught relationship with the last Democrat president, Barack Obama, as Mr Netanyahu sided with his Republican adversaries against US diplomacy with Iran.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan visited this month to discuss Iran after efforts to restore a 2015 nuclear accord – despised by Mr Netanyahu – all but died. “I’ve never seen such an intense flurry of high-level contacts under any administration as you’re watching right now,” said Mr Miller, now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The Biden team is looking “to avoid confrontation with Netanyahu”, he said, noting strong support for the Israeli leader among Republicans, who control the House of Representatives.
David Makovsky, also at the Washington Institute, said he also understood that CIA director Bill Burns had been visiting the region. “It looks a little like flooding the zone,” he said.
Mr Netanyahu has hailed the 2020 normalisation of relations with the United Arab Emirates, which has moved full speed ahead on developing ties despite public concerns over the new government’s moves.
Mr Blinken is expected on his trip to reiterate US support for a Palestinian state, a prospect few expect to advance under the new Israeli government.Article link: https://todayspaper.theaustralian.com.au/infinity/article_popover_share.aspx?guid=ba776607-cf9e-44dc-bb17-086766259eff
Article source: The Australian / AFP | Leon Bruneau | 31.1.23