US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he boards a plane as he departs Washington to travel to the Middle East amid the Israel-Hamas conflict at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, US, January 4, 2024.
Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is to meet the leaders of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in their respective countries on Monday ahead of the trip to Israel, as Washington seeks to curb regional contagion from Israel-Hamas War.
“This is a moment of deep tension for the region. This is a conflict that could easily metastasize, causing even more insecurity and suffering,” Blinken told reporters in Doha after meeting with the Qatari leadership on Sunday.
The Middle East trip follows the drone assassination of Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Aruri in Beirut, Lebanon, which Hamas has blamed on Israel. Israel has not publicly claimed responsibility for the killing, which is one of the latest flashpoints in its war with the Palestinian militant group that has raged for three months and shows no sign of abating.
Israeli soldiers also exchanged fire with Iran-backed Hezbollah fighters on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.
Many US officials now fear that the fighting will draw Hezbollah and Lebanon into the war, a shift that could increase its and Iran’s involvement. Hezbollah, the most powerful militant and political organization in Lebanon, has been described by analysts as having ten times the strength and military capabilities of Hamas.
Meanwhile, casualties in Gaza amid Israel’s relentless onslaught continue to mount. Gaza’s health ministry says more than 22,800 people have been killed and the vast majority of the besieged enclave’s population displaced, as the United Nations and World Health Organization appeal for more humanitarian aid as disease and starvation take hold.
Blinken has often urged Israel to ensure the protection of civilians and lamented that too many innocent Palestinians have been killed, but the Biden administration has so far shown no signs of reducing or modulating military and economic support for its close ally.
The Israeli offensive was launched in response to the October 7 terror attack by Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups, a violent rampage in southern Israel that killed 1,200 people and took another 240 hostage.
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