| 26 February 2024, Monday |

Blinken to return to Israel, West Bank as truce extended

According to a US official on Monday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to make his third visit to the Middle East during wartime this week. This visit coincides with the announcement of a truce extension in Gaza by mediators.
Blinken will also head this week to Dubai to represent the United States at the COP28 climate summit, which President Joe Biden is skipping after two previous years of attending to highlight US leadership.
A senior US official, speaking as Blinken arrived in Brussels for NATO meetings, said the top US diplomat would meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv and with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah.
“In his meetings in the Middle East, the secretary will stress the need to sustain the increased flow of humanitarian assistance to Gaza, secure the release of all hostages and improve protection to civilians in Gaza,” the official said.
“The secretary will discuss with partners in the region the principles he laid out for the future of Gaza and the need to establish an independent Palestinian state,” the official said.
The trip comes as mediator Qatar announced a 48-hour extension of a truce between Israel and Hamas, opening the way for further releases of hostages and the arrival of humanitarian aid into the war-battered Gaza Strip.
There was no immediate confirmation from Israel, which has vowed to keep up the fight to destroy Hamas.
The United States has been pressing Israel to work with the Palestinian Authority and rein in settlers who have attacked Palestinians in the West Bank since October 7, but Netanyahu has been a long-time critic of Abbas and of a two-state solution.

Blinken and Biden have vowed support for Israel after Hamas militants stormed into the US ally on October 7 and killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in Israel’s deadliest-ever attack.
But US officials have also voiced increasing concern about the Israeli reprisals’ toll on civilians, which have galvanized public opinion in much of the world.
The bombing and ground campaign has left almost 15,000 people dead, mostly Palestinian civilians, according to Gaza’s Hamas government.
Blinken will head Friday to COP28 in Dubai, which opens on Thursday in the largest-yet UN-led summit on climate change.
Biden has attended the last two annual summits, in Scotland and Egypt, in hopes of showing that the United States has turned the page from his climate skeptic predecessor Donald Trump, who is seeking the White House again.
The Biden administration has pushed through billions of dollars of investment in the green economy, including electric cars.
Another US official earlier said that Biden would not attend COP28, whose attendees include Pope Francis. Officials did not give a reason. Biden has been consumed by the Middle East but is seeking to focus on his domestic agenda with less than a year to go before the presidential election.
Blinken will also seek to rally support for Ukraine in talks with NATO foreign ministers in Brussels and then at a meeting in North Macedonia of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
“We anticipate that he’ll engage in a good discussion with our OSCE colleagues about support for Ukraine,” said James O’Brien, the top US diplomat for Europe.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday that North Macedonia, which has joined Western sanctions over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, has agreed to let him attend the annual meeting of the pan-European security body in which Russia is a member.
Russian state media said that EU member Bulgaria has informed Moscow it would allow Lavrov’s plane to cross its airspace.
But Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said there would not be a meeting with Blinken.
“No, (they) haven’t asked, (they) won’t ask and there won’t be a meeting” he told Russian state news agencies.”
Last year, OSCE host Poland refused to let Lavrov attend, sparking an angry response from Russia.
US officials have cut most top-level contact with Russia since the February 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, although Blinken briefly met Lavrov in March on the sidelines of a G20 meeting in India.

  • Arab News