Blinken sends envoy to Mideast, expresses support for Israel

Blinken sends envoy to Mideast, expresses support for Israel
US top diplomat Antony Blinken announced that a US envoy would travel to the Middle East after Israel’s assaults on Palestinians in Jerusalem and the outbreak of conflict in Gaza.
3 min read
Blinken said the US would send an envoy to the Middle East [AFP]

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that a US envoy would travel to the Middle East to seek to calm tensions as he implored Israel to avoid civilian deaths.

Hady Amr, the deputy assistant secretary of state in charge of Israeli and Palestinian affairs, was leaving Wednesday and will meet both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, US officials said.

"He will urge on my behalf and on behalf of President Biden a de-escalation of violence," Blinken told reporters.

The top diplomat, in a call with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called on Palestinians and Israelis to “step back” from the fighting.

Blinken "reiterated his call on all parties to de-escalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence," said a State Department statement.

News of that conversation emerged shortly after the Pentagon said Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin had called his Israeli counterpart, Benny Gantz, expressing his support for what he described as Israel's "legitimate right to defend itself and its people" while also urging steps to restore calm.

A senior US official separately said to expect further high-level contacts, including with Jordan and Egypt, although Washington does not speak to Hamas, which it considers a terrorist group.

Blinken described scenes of dead Palestinian civilians, including children, as "harrowing" but defended Israel's assault on Gaza.

"I think Israel has an extra burden in trying to do everything they possibly can to avoid civilian casualties, even as it is rightfully responding in defence of its people," Blinken said.

Read also: Fighting Israel's erasure of Palestinian identity in Jerusalem

But the top US diplomat blamed Hamas for the violence despite the much greater death toll from Israel’s attacks on Gaza, saying there was a "very clear and absolute distinction between a terrorist organization, Hamas, that is indiscriminately raining down rockets - in fact, targeting civilians -- and Israel's response defending itself."

62 Palestinian civilians have been killed in Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip, including fourteen children. Hundreds of Palestinian civilians have also been injured in attacks by Israeli security forces on worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Hamas launched rocket strikes at Israel on Monday after giving an ultimatum to Israel to withdraw its forces from the mosque. Six people in Israel, including one Indian national, were killed in the strikes.

President Joe Biden's administration earlier appealed to ally Israel to reroute a provocative parade through the Muslim quarter of occupied east Jerusalem and desist from forced expulsions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

Despite its support for Israel’s attacks on Gaza, the Biden administration has tried to present itself as more nuanced than the militantly pro-Israel administration of Donald Trump.

In his comments, Blinken renewed US support for the eventual creation of an independent Palestinian state.

"This violence takes us further away from that goal," Blinken said.

"We believe Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live with safety and security and will continue to engage with Israelis, Palestinians and other regional partners to urge de-escalation and to bring calm."

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