Blinken seeks Arab pressure on Hamas as Israel readies Gaza assault

Blinken seeks Arab pressure on Hamas as Israel readies Gaza assault
A number of Arab states, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, have criticised Israel's bombardment of the Gaza Strip which has killed 1,799 Palestinians.
3 min read
Anthony Blinken was recently in Israel, offering support to the country as it continued its bombardment of the Gaza Strip [Getty]

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday began a tour of six Arab capitals to build pressure on Hamas while Israel readies a massive offensive on the Gaza Strip following the Hamas attacks.

The top US diplomat spent a morning in Amman huddled with Jordan's King Abdullah II, a longtime US partner, and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. He will head later Friday to Qatar, and then Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, before heading in the coming days to the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, officials said.

Blinken spent Thursday in Tel Aviv where he promised unwavering solidarity to US ally Israel after the surprise October 7 offensive by Hamas, who killed over 1,300 people and took about 150 more hostage.

The United States has publicly blessed indiscriminate reprisals by Israel, which on Friday called for the immediate relocation of 1.1 million people in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, amid fears of ethnic cleansing.

Israel has killed 1,799 people in strikes in the Gaza Strip since the Hamas attack and has imposed a siege cutting off food, water and electricity.

Qatar has longstanding ties with Hamas and has been seen as an intermediary in freeing the hostages.

"We'll continue pressing countries to help prevent the conflict from spreading, and to use their leverage with Hamas to immediately and unconditionally release the hostages," Blinken said Thursday in Tel Aviv.

"We'll also discuss how we can continue to make real our affirmative vision for a region that's more peaceful, more prosperous, more secure, more integrated.

"In fact, that is the choice, and the choice in some ways has been made even more stark by the actions of Hamas."

Live Story

Saudi Arabia in the weeks before the attacks had spoken of progress in US-led diplomacy to normalise relations with Israel - a landmark step for the conservative kingdom that is guardian of Islam's two holiest sites.

Few expect the momentum to be maintained, with the Saudis joining Qatar in blaming Israeli policies towards the Palestinians for the flare-up in violence.

US officials are working with Egypt - which also borders Gaza and was the first Arab country to make peace with Israel - on a plan for a safety corridor from Gaza.

Blinken said he spoke to Israel "about possibilities for safe passage for civilians who want to leave or get out of the way in Gaza."

Working with Abbas

The nearly 88-year-old Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority enjoys small levels of autonomy in the occupied West Bank, has a long-standing rivalry with Hamas, who took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 following a conflict with Abbas's Fatah movement.

Blinken entered his private residence in Amman and shook hands next to a painting that depicted the veteran Palestinian leader superimposed in front of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam which has been under continued attack by Israeli extremists.

The United States under President Joe Biden and other Democrats has largely been supportive of the Palestinian Authority, seeing it as the best option for long-term peace with Israel.

Live Story

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long sought to sideline the Palestinian Authority and Abbas, with the far-right Israeli government rejecting the prospect of a two-state solution.

Abbas made his first public remarks on the conflict on Thursday after meeting King Abdullah.

Abbas called for "an immediate end to the comprehensive aggression against the Palestinian people" and rejected "practices related to killing civilians or abusing them on both sides."

Blinken earlier spoke to Abbas by telephone about the attacks, pressuring him to condemn Hamas and maintain stability in the West Bank.