Blinken Returns to Middle East, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (AP) US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince on Monday, the first day of his sixth journey to the Middle East since the outset of the Gaza conflict, to advance a potential cease-fire agreement and postwar planning while calming regional tensions.
Obstacles loom as Blinken Returns to Middle East to Negotiate Plans for Gaza
However, on all three fronts, he faces significant challenges: Hamas and Israel are publicly in disagreement over crucial aspects of a possible peace. Israel has ignored US calls for a road to a Palestinian state, while Iran’s militant supporters in the region have shown little deterrence from US bombings.
In Gaza, meanwhile, Hamas has begun to resurface in some of the most destroyed regions after Israeli forces withdrew, indicating that Israel’s primary goal of crushing the group remains elusive. Video video from the same places shows widespread devastation, with nearly every structure damaged or destroyed.
Blinken met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shortly after landing in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. Saudi officials have stated that the kingdom remains interested in mending relations with Israel in a potentially historic agreement, but only if there is a genuine plan to establish a Palestinian state.
However, any such big agreement appears to be a long way off as the battle in Gaza rages on, with 113 bodies taken to hospitals in the previous 24 hours alone, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-controlled enclave. According to reports, an additional 205 individuals were injured.
The deaths bring the total number of Palestinians killed throughout the nearly four-month conflict to 27,478. The ministry’s count does not distinguish between civilians and fighters, although it does state that the majority of those killed were women and children.
The war in Gaza has destroyed significant portions of the tiny territory, displacing 85% of its inhabitants and forcing a fifth of its residents to starve.
A video circulating online Monday showed masked gunmen leading a line of shirtless inmates past bombed-out buildings in northern Gaza, forcing them to cry “thief.” The Associated Press was unable to independently corroborate the occurrence, but it is consistent with previous reports.
It was the latest indication that Hamas, which has dominated Gaza since seizing power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007, is regaining control of portions of the north. Residents report that Hamas-led security personnel, which numbered in the tens of thousands before the war, have resurfaced in some districts, focusing on distributing civil salaries and cracking down on looters.
The Israeli military claims it has undertaken targeted operations in northern Gaza during the last week to prevent Hamas from regaining its strength.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to prolong the war until Israel destroys Hamas’ military and governmental capabilities and recovers the 100-plus hostages still held by the militant group following the Oct. 7 cross-border operation that sparked the conflict.
In the attack, Hamas and other militants killed 1,200 people, the majority of whom were civilians, and kidnapped approximately 250 more. More than 100 captives, largely women and children, were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November in exchange for the release of 240 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
During a meeting with troops on Monday, Netanyahu claimed that Israel had defeated 18 of Hamas’ 24 battalions without presenting evidence. “We are on the way to absolute victory, and I want to tell you that we are committed to it and we will not give it up.”
The United States, Qatar, and Egypt have proposed a several-week cease-fire and the progressive release of the remaining hostages.
However, Hamas has yet to openly reply to the idea and has stated that it will not free any more detainees until Israel finishes its offensive. The militants are anticipated to seek the release of thousands of Palestinian inmates in exchange, which Netanyahu has explicitly rejected.
The fight has heightened tensions in the region, with a flurry of strikes and counterattacks heightening the prospect of a larger confrontation.
Israel and Lebanon’s formidable Hezbollah militant group exchange fire across the border daily, and in recent weeks, apparent Israeli attacks have killed prominent Hezbollah commanders.
Last week, Iran-backed rebels launched a drone attack near the Jordan-Syria border, killing three US soldiers and sparking a flurry of retaliation strikes. In reaction to Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen attacking foreign commerce in the Red Sea, the United States and Britain have launched strikes.