Blinken returns to Mideast

ANTONY BLINKEN.
ANTONY BLINKEN.AP

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Monday at the start of his fifth visit to the Middle East since the outbreak of the war in Gaza, hoping to press ahead with a potential cease-fire deal and postwar planning while tamping down regional tensions.

But on all three fronts he faces major challenges: Hamas and Israel are publicly at odds over key elements of a potential truce. Israel has dismissed the United States’ calls for a path to a Palestinian state, and Iran’s militant allies in the region have shown little sign of being deterred by U.S. strikes.

In Gaza, meanwhile, Hamas has begun to reemerge in some of the most devastated areas after Israeli forces pulled back, an indication that Israel’s central goal of crushing the group remains elusive. Video footage from the same areas shows vast destruction, with nearly every building damaged or destroyed.

Israeli offensive

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the military would continue to conduct operations in northern Gaza for many months and press ahead with its main offensive in the south, where it has been locked in heavy fighting for weeks, until it has “full reign” over the entire territory.

He said the offensive will eventually reach the town of Rafah, on the Egyptian border, where some 1.5 million displaced Palestinians have sought refuge. Egypt has said an Israeli deployment along the border would threaten the peace treaty the two countries signed over four decades ago.

Blinken met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shortly after arriving in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Saudi officials have said the kingdom is still interested in normalizing relations with Israel in a potentially historic deal, but only if there is a credible plan to create a Palestinian state.

Blinken “underscored the importance of addressing humanitarian needs in Gaza and preventing further spread of the conflict,” and he and the crown prince discussed “the importance of building a more integrated and prosperous region,” the State Department said in a statement.

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