Blinken begins Middle East mission to bolster Gaza ceasefire
May 25 2021 09:26 AM
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he departs to visit Israel and West Bank, at Andrews A
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he departs to visit Israel and West Bank, at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, US on May 24

* Begins regional visit in Israel
* Talks with Netanyahu, Palestinian leader Abbas on agenda
* Washington hopes to strengthen Israel-Gaza ceasefire
* But US sees peace talks revival as premature

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken began a Middle East visit in Israel on Tuesday, hoping to bolster its ceasefire with Gaza's ruling Hamas and help speed humanitarian aid to the devastated Palestinian enclave.
In tandem with Blinken's mission, Israeli authorities said they were allowing fuel, medicine and food earmarked for Gaza's private sector to enter the territory for the first time since 11 days of cross-border hostilities started 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.
But the official suggested it was too early for wider peace talks between Israel, in political flux after four inconclusive elections in two years, and the Palestinians, divided by enmity between Hamas and Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas.
US President Joe Biden has said a two-state solution was the only answer to resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and pledged a major package with other countries to help rebuild Gaza. Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations collapsed in 2014.
Blinken's agenda included talks in Jerusalem on Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah with Abbas. Blinken is due to remain in the region through Thursday.
At least 253 people were killed in Gaza and more than 1,900 wounded, health authorities said, during the heaviest Israeli-Palestinian fighting in years.
The Israeli military put the death toll in Israel at 13, with hundreds treated for injuries after rocket salvoes caused panic and sent people as far away as Tel Aviv rushing into shelters.
Commercial buildings, residential towers and private houses across the Gaza Strip, where 2 million people live, were damaged or destroyed by the time the ceasefire was announced.
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.

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