US top diplomat heads home after Mideast tour

US top diplomat heads home after Mideast tour
2 min read
Antony Blinken is returning to the US after meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to discuss the recent ceasefire.
Blinken met with numerous leaders on his trip [Getty]

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken headed home from Jordan Thursday after a whistlestop Middle East tour on which he called for regional cooperation to consolidate a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza militants.

Blinken met both Israeli and Palestinian leaders during two days of talks, throwing Washington's support behind the Egyptian-brokered truce that ended 11 days of heavy Israeli bombing of Gaza and rocket fire from the impoverished coastal enclave into Israel.

"Securing the ceasefire was important, particularly because of the devastating toll violence took on families on both sides," Blinken told reporters after Wednesday talks with Jordan's King Abdullah II in Amman, his final stop.

"We see the ceasefire not as an end, but as a beginning of something to build on."

Following talks with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Blinken vowed to rebuild US relations with the Palestinians by reopening a consulate in Jerusalem, as well as give millions in aid for the war-battered Gaza Strip.

The announcements signalled a break with US policy under former president Donald Trump, who had shuttered the diplomatic mission for Palestinians in 2019 and slashed aid to the Palestinian Authority.

After meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Blinken reiterated support for Israel's right to defend itself against rocket attacks by Hamas, adding that they must not benefit from reconstruction aid.

Hamas political chief Yahya Sinwar vowed not to take "a single cent" of the aid, insisting that "we have never taken a cent in the past".

Blinken also met Wednesday with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo, whom he praised for helping bring an end to the intense violence "relatively quickly".

Israeli air strikes and artillery fire on Gaza killed 254 Palestinians, including 66 children, and wounded more than 1,900 people in 11 days of conflict from May 10, the health ministry in Gaza says.

Rocket and other fire from Gaza claimed 12 lives in Israel, including one child and an Arab-Israeli teenager, an Israeli soldier, one Indian national and two Thai workers, medics say. Some 357 people in Israel were wounded.

The UN Human Rights Council will hold a special session focused on Israel Thursday to consider launching a broad, international investigation into abuses during the violence.