In Tel Aviv, the US secretary of state says that while Israel has a ‘right’ to prevent terrorist attacks, a sustainable peace includes the creation of a Palestinian state.
United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken has urged Israel to avoid further civilian harm in its war on Gaza and to seek a path towards the creation of a Palestinian state as a way to resolve the long-running wider conflict.
In a Tel Aviv meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, Blinken “stressed the importance of avoiding further civilian harm and protecting civilian infrastructure in Gaza”, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.
He reaffirmed US “support for Israel’s right to prevent the terrorist attacks of October 7 from being repeated”, Miller added, and “reiterated the need to ensure lasting, sustainable peace for Israel and the region, including by the realisation of a Palestinian state”.
The top US diplomat is on his fourth visit to the Middle East since the war broke out on October 7 when Hamas launched an attack on southern Israel that killed 1,139 people, according to Israeli authorities.
Israel responded with a devastating bombardment and a ground invasion of Gaza that has destroyed much of the territory and killed more than 23,200 people, mostly women and children, according to Palestinian officials.
The secretary of state voiced hope that, after the war, Israel could push on with its efforts towards regional integration following its US-brokered normalisation deals with the United Arab Emirates and other states.
“I think there actually are real opportunities there, but we have to get through this very challenging moment,” Blinken said after meeting Foreign Minister Israel Katz.
On Monday in Riyadh, he said countries in the region wanted integration with Israel but only if plans to normalise relations included a “practical pathway” to a future Palestinian state.
Blinken was to meet with families of captives taken by Hamas and discuss the “relentless efforts” to bring them back. Several dozen protesters gathered outside the hotel where he was having meetings and called for a ceasefire to secure the release of the captives.
Israel said that of about 240 people seized by Palestinian armed groups on October 7, 132 are still being held in Gaza and 25 have died in captivity.
Met with @IsraeliPM and reaffirmed our support for Israel’s right to prevent another October 7 from occurring.
I also stressed the importance of avoiding civilian harm, protecting civilian infrastructure, and ensuring the distribution of humanitarian assistance throughout Gaza. pic.twitter.com/1g7h27Ci8f
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) January 9, 2024
“There has been a huge amount of pressure levelled at the Israeli prime minister to hold a ceasefire to let [the hostages] go,” Al Jazeera’s Laura Khan said, reporting from Haifa.
Blinken travelled to Turkey, Greece, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates before reaching Israel.
Khan added that Blinken would travel next to the West Bank in order to hold talks on the “day after”, including the possibility of a two-state solution.
Meanwhile, tensions mounted on the Israel-Lebanon border on Tuesday as the Israeli army and the Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah traded fire. Khan, who visited the Israeli border town of Shlomi, said the atmosphere was “incredibly tense” amid the ongoing sound of sirens and raids.
In Jordan on Friday, Blinken noted “real concern” over the situation along the Lebanese border, which is stoking fears of a wider regional conflagration.
Israel’s defence minister Yoav Gallant said in a meeting with Blinken earlier on Tuesday that increasing pressure on Iran was “critical” as it could prevent a regional escalation.
“An increase in the pressure placed on Iran is critical and may prevent regional escalation in additional arenas,” Gallant was quoted as saying in a government statement.
Al Jazeera and news agencies