Blinken brings US push on post-war Gaza planning and stopping conflict to UAE and Saudi Arabia

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Abu Dhabi:  US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has opened his third day of meetings on an urgent Mideast diplomatic mission to prevent Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza from exploding into a broader regional conflict.

Blinken was meeting Monday with United Arab Emirates leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed before travelling to Saudi Arabia for talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aimed at enlisting the key Arab leaders in a push to not only keep the war contained but also prepare for post-conflict Gaza’s future.

With Sheikh Mohammed in Abu Dhabi Blinken “emphasised the importance of preventing further spread of the conflict and stressed continued US commitment to securing lasting regional peace that ensures Israel’s security and advances the establishment of an independent Palestinian state”, the State Department said.

Blinken arrived in Abu Dhabi from similar meetings in Qatar, Jordan, Turkiye and Greece, where he claimed at least modest success in his mission with pledges from those countries to consider contributing to the effort to plan for Gaza’s reconstruction and governance once the fighting has ended.

Gaza has been decimated by three months of Israeli bombardments that have sparked anger around the world for the massive damage and huge number of civilian casualties.

Financial and in-kind support from the UAE and Saudi Arabia will be essential to the success of any such plan and US officials said Blinken on his fourth trip to the region since the war began in October hoped to overcome initial Arab resistance to considering “day after” scenarios for Gaza.

Arab countries have been pressing for an immediate cease-fire and an end to civilian deaths before discussing such plans.

But after his first meetings on his latest tour, Blinken said he had been speaking with officials about contributions they could make to post-war plans and about using their influence to tamp down resurgent fears that the conflict could expand and potentially draw in direct US involvement.

“This is a conflict that could easily metastasize, causing even more insecurity and even more suffering,” Blinken told reporters during a joint news conference in Doha with Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.

“So from day one, among other priorities, we have been intensely focused on working to prevent the conflict from spreading,” he said. “We share a commitment to ensure that the conflict does not expand.”

He said his talks had also included “not necessarily easy discussions” of what each country can do once the conflict is over “to provide the assurances and the incentives required to build a more secure and more stable, more peaceful future for the region”.

“And my takeaway from the discussions so far, including here with our friends in Qatar, is that our partners are willing to have these difficult conversations and to make hard decisions. All of us feel a stake in forging the way forward,” Blinken said.

Arab states have been highly critical of Israel’s actions and have eschewed public support for long-term planning, arguing that the fighting must end before such discussions can begin. They have been demanding a cease-fire since mid-October as civilian casualties began to skyrocket.

After his talks with Blinken, Sheikh Mohammed called for an immediate cease-fire, saying the constant images of death and destruction in Gaza are de-sensitising people to the horrors of what is happening.

“This is a big test for our humanity,” he said. “We are looking for a sustainable future. However, the focus is now on stopping the fighting.”

In Amman on Sunday, Jordan’s King Abdullah II “warned of the catastrophic repercussions” of the war in Gaza while calling on the US to press for an immediate cease-fire, a statement from the Royal Court said.

Israel has refused to agree to a cease-fire and the US has instead called for specified temporary “humanitarian pauses” to allow aid to get in and people to get to safety.

Another urgent priority for Blinken is to surge humanitarian assistance to Gaza. In Amman, Blinken toured the World Food Program’s regional coordination warehouse, where trucks are being packed with aid to be delivered to Gaza through both the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings.

“We’re determined to do everything we possibly can to ameliorate the situation for the men, women and children in Gaza,” Blinken said.

From Saudi Arabia, Blinken will travel to Israel, the West Bank and Egypt on Tuesday and Wednesday before returning to Washington.

The US has been pressing Israel for weeks to let greater amounts of food, water, fuel, medicine and other supplies into Gaza, and the UN Security Council passed a resolution on December 22 calling for an immediate increase in deliveries. Three weeks ago, Israel opened Kerem Shalom, adding a second entry point for aid into Gaza after Rafah.

Still, the rate of trucks entering has not risen significantly. This week, an average of around 120 trucks a day entered through Rafah and Kerem Shalom, according to UN figures, far below the 500 trucks of goods going in daily before the war and far below what aid groups say is needed.

Almost the entire population of 2.3 million depends on the trucks coming across the border for their survival. One in four Palestinians in Gaza is starving, and the rest face crisis levels of hunger, according to the UN.

More than 85 per cent of people in Gaza have been driven from their homes by Israeli bombardment and ground offensives. Most live in UN shelters crowded beyond their capacity, in tent camps that have been sprung up, or on the streets.

Blinken’s visit comes as developments in Lebanon, northern Israel, the Red Sea and Iraq have put intense strains on what had been a modestly successful US push to prevent a regional conflagration since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, and as international criticism of Israel’s military operation mounts.

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