US's Blinken in Egypt on tour to seek 'enduring end' to Gaza war

US's Blinken in Egypt on tour to seek 'enduring end' to Gaza war
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on his fifth regional tour since the Gaza war began, was due to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
4 min read
06 February, 2024
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is on another Middle East tour amid Israel's war on Gaza [Alex Wong/Getty-archive]

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Egypt on Tuesday as part of his latest Middle East crisis tour, seeking a new ceasefire and "an enduring end" to the Gaza war.

Heavy strikes and fighting in Gaza killed at least 99 people overnight, mostly women and children, said the health ministry in the enclave, which has been under almost four months of bombardment.

Fears grew for more than a million Palestinians crowded into the far southern Rafah area as Israeli forces draw ever closer.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said on Monday that the military "will reach places where we have not yet fought" right up to what he claimed was the "last Hamas bastion, which is Rafah".

Rafah is next to Egypt and there have long been fears that Israel would use its war to push Palestinians across the border.

Blinken – on his fifth regional tour since the bloodiest ever escalation in Gaza broke out – was due to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a day after he held talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh.

The US top envoy was later expected in Qatar and then Israel, hoping to shore up support for a truce deal that was hashed out in Paris in January but has not yet been signed off on by either Hamas or Israel.

Israeli troops, with air and naval support, have been engaged in heavy urban combat centred on Gaza's main southern city of Khan Younis, much of which has been reduced to rubble.

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Israel's brutal war has so far killed 27,585 people in Gaza, according to the strip's health ministry.

A 7 October attack by Hamas and other Palestinian militants killed around 1,160 people in Israel, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Around 250 hostages were also seized. Israel says 132 remain in Gaza, including 28 who are believed to have been killed.

'No place is safe'

Israeli forces have killed dozens of Palestinian gunmen and captured scores in operations throughout the Gaza Strip in the past 24 hours, the military said in a statement on Tuesday.

An AFP journalist said overnight strikes rocked Khan Younis and that two air strikes also struck Rafah.

"No place is safe, no place at all – where shall we go?" one Palestinian, Mohamad Kozaat, said after six members of his family, including his daughter, were wounded in an Israeli strike on the border town.

The United States has strongly backed its top regional ally Israel with munitions and diplomatic support, but also urged steps to reduce civilian casualties and to eventually move toward a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

The truce Blinken is hoping to seal proposes a six-week pause to fighting as Hamas and Israel exchange hostages and more aid enters Gaza, according to a Hamas source.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has faced divisions within his cabinet and public fury over the fate of the remaining hostages, said Israel "will not accept" demands Hamas has made for an exchange involving thousands of detained Palestinians.

The premier's right-wing Likud party quoted him as saying the terms "should be similar to the previous agreement" in late November, which saw a more limited ratio of Palestinians swapped for captives held in Gaza.

Houthi attacks

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in a phone call also told Netanyahu on Monday that "only a negotiated two-state solution would open up the prospect of a sustainable solution to the Middle East conflict".

And French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne, on his first visit to the region since taking office, urged the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks "without delay".

As the Gaza war has raged, violence has flared in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, where Iran-backed groups have launched attacks in support of Hamas, triggering counterattacks by Israel and the United States and its partners.

For weeks, Yemen's Iran-backed Houthis have been targeting what they say are Israel-linked ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden in solidarity with Palestinians.

The attacks on the vital shipping route have disrupted global trade and prompted reprisals by US and British forces, including strikes on two "explosive-laden drone boats" on Monday, according to the US military.

The Houthis said Tuesday they struck US and British ships in two separate attacks, one of which was confirmed by a security firm.

The rebels' military spokesman said it fired naval missiles at the Morning Tide and Star Nasia, identifying the Barbados- and Marshall Islands-flagged ships, respectively, as British and American.

Blinken spoke with the Saudi crown prince about "regional coordination to achieve an enduring end to the crisis in Gaza" and "the urgent need to reduce regional tensions", said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

Netanyahu said "a complete victory will deal a fatal blow" not just to Hamas but also to other Iran-backed militant groups across the region.

(AFP, Reuters)