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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Blinken returns to Middle East for 5th tour since Oct. 7 amid efforts for new hostage deal

Secretary of State to continue efforts to reach hostage deal, including humanitarian pause, says spokesman

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will leave Sunday for the Middle East for his fifth trip since Oct. 7, with stops in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Israel and the West Bank.

“The Secretary will continue diplomatic efforts to reach an agreement that secures the release of all remaining hostages and includes a humanitarian pause that will allow for sustained, increased delivery of humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.

Read more: Israel’s Netanyahu holds talks with US’ Blinken in Tel Aviv amid Gaza war

“He will continue work to prevent the spread of the conflict while reaffirming that the United States will take appropriate steps to defend its personnel and the right to freedom of navigation in the Red Sea,” he said.

Blinken will continue discussions on how to establish a “more integrated, peaceful region that includes lasting security for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” said Miller.

Blinken’s talks in Israel will focus on a possible deal for a cease-fire and hostage swap with Hamas, according to Israeli media outlets,

Earlier this week, the Haaretz newspaper reported a proposal including the release of 35 Israeli hostages in return for a six-week cease-fire in Gaza and the release of thousands of Palestinian detainees.

Hamas is believed to be holding 136 Israelis following its cross-border attack on Israel in early October.

Read more: The Old World Order is over – Blinken

Israel has killed more than 27,000 victims in Gaza in response to the offensive by Hamas, which took the lives of 1,200 people. The Palestinian group also took 240 hostages. The Israeli military onslaught has caused mass displacement and destruction and created conditions for famine.

Blinken’s trip to the region comes amid growing concerns about a wider conflict. Iranian-backed groups have been launching attacks against commercial ships in the Red Sea and US forces in Iraq and Syria, prompting retaliatory strikes by the US-led coalition.

Blinken warned on Monday during a joint news conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg that it is an “incredibly volatile time in the Middle East.”

“I would argue that we’ve not seen a situation as dangerous as the one we’re facing now across the region since at least 1973, and arguably even before that,” he added.

The US readies retaliatory strikes after a drone attack Sunday on Tower 22, a remote military installation in Jordan near the Syrian and Iraqi borders, which killed three US troops and injured at least 34 others.

An umbrella group of Iranian-backed militias calling itself the Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed responsibility.

President Joe Biden said earlier this week that the US has decided to respond to the Jordan attack, but added: “I don’t think we need a wider war in the Middle East.”