Blinken Urges Israel to Engage, Palestinians line up in Rafah for free food during Israel’s ongoing air and military invasion in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, January 9, 2024.
Blinken Urges Israel to Engage With Region on Postwar Plans
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Israel on Tuesday to collaborate with moderate Palestinians and neighboring nations on postwar Gaza plans, saying they were eager to help reconstruct and govern the enclave provided there was a “pathway to a Palestinian state.”
The unified States and Israel are unified in the fight against Hamas, but they are sharply split on Gaza’s future, with Washington and its Arab allies eager to resume the long-stalled peace process, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partners strongly reject.
The battle in Gaza continues, with no end in sight, fuelling a humanitarian disaster in the tiny coastal territory. The fighting has also fueled growing violence between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorists, raising concerns about a larger clash.
Blinken stated at a news conference after meeting with key Israeli leaders that Israel “must stop taking steps that undercut the Palestinians’ ability to govern themselves effectively.”
He went on to say that Israel “must be a partner of the Palestinian leaders who are willing to lead their people” so they can live “side by side in peace with Israel.” Settler violence, settlement development, home demolitions, and evictions “all make it harder, not easier, for Israel to achieve lasting peace and security.”
US officials have urged the Palestinian Authority, which now governs parts of Israel’s occupied West Bank, to take control of Gaza. Israeli leaders have rejected that concept but have not presented a precise plan beyond stating that they will maintain open-ended military control over the land.
Blinken stated that Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey have agreed to begin preparing for Gaza’s rehabilitation and governance once the war is finished. The leaders of Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority will meet on Wednesday in Aqaba, Jordan’s southern Red Sea city.
Heavy Violence in Gaza
The United States, which has supplied critical military and diplomatic support for Israel’s incursion, has urged it to focus on more specific operations against Hamas. However, the pace of death and damage has remained almost unchanged, with hundreds murdered in recent days.
Israel has vowed to keep attacking until it kills Hamas, which started the war with its Oct. 7 offensive on southern Israel. Palestinian militants killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped 250 more, nearly half of whom were released following a weeklong cease-fire in November.
The Israeli military claims to have destroyed Hamas infrastructure in northern Gaza, including entire neighborhoods, yet it is still fighting tiny groups of terrorists. The offensive has turned its attention to the southern city of Khan Younis, as well as the central Gaza refugee camps.
“The fighting will continue throughout 2024,” said Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, a military spokeswoman.
According to the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza, Israel’s assault has killed around 23,200 Palestinians, or nearly 1% of the territory’s population, and injured over 58,000 more. Approximately two-thirds of the dead are women and children. The death toll shows little distinction between combatants and civilians.
Late Monday, a strike hit a house in the center town of Deir al-Balah, killing Jamal Naeim, a well-known Gaza dentist, his mother, three daughters, and three tiny grandchildren. Outside the hospital, Naeim held a small bundle of white linen containing the remains of his adult daughter, Shaimaa, a dentist.
“This is what we found of her, just the skin of her head and her hair,” he sobbed. Naeim is the brother of Bassem Naeim, a Hamas political figure, but he is not a member of the party, according to residents.
A strike damaged a five-story residential structure in Rafah, southern Gaza, on Tuesday, killing at least eight people, according to Palestinian Health officials.
Six of the dead were transported to adjacent Al-Kuwaiti Hospital and counted by an Associated Press reporter. Two more corpses were carried to Youssef al-Najjar Hospital in Rafah, according to Dr. Sohaib al-Hams of Al-Kuwaiti Hospital.
Monday was one of the worst days for Israeli troops in Gaza, with nine killed, according to the IDF. Six people were killed in an unintentional detonation when forces were prepared to demolish a weapons production complex in central Gaza, according to the military.
It says 185 soldiers have died since the ground offensive began in late October.
The battle has forced over 85% of Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians to flee their homes, and a quarter of them are facing famine, with just a trickle of food, water, medication, and other supplies entering through an Israeli siege.
The United Nations Humanitarian Office, known as OCHA, warned that the conflict was seriously impeding assistance supplies. The military’s evacuation orders have affected many warehouses, distribution hubs, health facilities, and shelters, according to reports.
The situation is even more terrible in northern Gaza, where Israeli forces closed off access to the remainder of the area in late October. Tens of thousands of people who remain there suffer a lack of food and water.
The WHO has been unable to transfer supplies to the north for two weeks. OCHA said the military denied five scheduled assistance convoys to the north during that time, including medical supplies and fuel for water and sanitation infrastructure.
Blinken stated that more food, water, medicine, and other aid must enter and be distributed efficiently. He urged Israel to “do everything it can to remove any obstacles from crossings to other parts of Gaza.”
Fears of Further Conflict
The battle in Gaza has threatened to spark a larger conflict, with Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah exchanging strikes following the assassination of Hamas’ deputy political head in Beirut last week.
On Tuesday, Hezbollah claimed that its exploding drones targeted the Israeli army’s northern command in the town of Safed, further into Israel than previous attacks by the party. The Israeli military stated that a drone dropped at a base in the north without causing any harm, implying that it was intercepted. Military officials did not identify the base.
Meanwhile, Israeli bombings in southern Lebanon killed at least four Hezbollah members, one of them was slain in the village where a funeral was conducted for a Hezbollah commander murdered the previous day.
Israel claimed that the man killed before the funeral, Ali Hussein Barji was in control of Hezbollah’s drones in the south, but a Hezbollah official, speaking on the condition of anonymity under the group’s rules, said he was merely a fighter.