Blinken in Egypt after meeting Saudi crown prince for 'enduring end' to Gaza war
GAZA, Palestine (AFP) - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reached Egypt on Tuesday as part of a Middle East crisis tour seeking a new truce and "an enduring end" to the Israel-Hamas war.
In Cairo, Blinken is scheduled to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the day after he held talks in Riyadh with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He spoke with the Saudi crown prince about "the urgent need to reduce regional tensions", according to State Department spokesman Matthew Miller. They also discussed "regional coordination to achieve an enduring end to the crisis in Gaza".
Blinken also discussed "building a more integrated and prosperous region", spokesman Miller said, alluding to negotiations cut off by the Gaza war for a landmark Saudi normalisation with Israel.
The trip, Blinken's fifth to the region since the start of the nearly four-month-long war, will later include stops in Israel and Qatar. Blinken's diplomatic push has been given fresh urgency as Israeli forces press further south towards Rafah, a Palestinian city on the southern border with Egypt where more than half the population of the Gaza Strip has taken shelter.
Blinken is hoping to shore up support for a truce deal hashed out in Paris in January, but not yet signed off on by either Hamas or Israel. A surge in attacks across the region by Iran-backed Hamas allies has triggered counterattacks by the United States and its partners. But Israel has vowed to press on with its retaliatory offensive, pushing as far into the Palestinian territory as needed to root out high-ranking Hamas officials.
The military "will reach places where we have not yet fought... right up to the last Hamas bastion, which is Rafah," Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said Monday.
Wider conflict fears
While Blinken was en route to Egypt, a maritime security firm said a British-owned cargo ship was damaged in the latest attack off rebel-held Yemen. The Barbados-flagged ship "reportedly incurred minor damage on the port side", British firm Ambrey said Tuesday, adding that there were no injuries.
For weeks, Yemen's Iran-backed Huthis have been targeting what they say are Israel-linked ships in solidarity with Palestinians. The attacks on the vital Red Sea shipping route have disrupted global trade and prompted reprisals by American and British forces, including strikes on two "explosive-laden drone boats" on Monday, according to the US military.
US President Joe Biden has said he wants to avoid spiraling into a wider conflict in the Middle East, while Iran has condemned strikes in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. On his first visit to the region since taking office, French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne on Monday urged the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks "without delay".
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in a phone call told Netanyahu that "only a negotiated two-state solution would open up the prospect of a sustainable solution to the Middle East conflict".