JOINT BASE ANDREWS, United States: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday he would seek “concrete measures” from Israel to minimise harm to Gaza civilians as he headed on his second crisis trip to the Middle East since a Hamas assault triggered a war.
President Joe Biden has promised full support and ramped-up military aid to Israel for its retaliatory strikes in Gaza following a Hamas assault, but in a visible shift of tone has also voiced empathy for Palestinian suffering which has stoked anger in the Arab world.
“We will be talking about concrete steps that can and should be taken to minimise harm to men, women and children in Gaza,” Blinken told reporters as he flew out of Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington.
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“This is something that the United States is committed to,” he said a day before he will hold his latest meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
His remarks come a day after Biden said that the United States wanted Israel to allow humanitarian “pauses” to let through aid and people.
The United States, however, opposes calls from across the Arab world and some European allies for a ceasefire, saying that Hamas has no intention of holding fire and would only use a truce to regroup.
“When I see a Palestinian child — a boy, a girl pulled from the rubble of a collapsed building — that hits me in the gut as much as seeing a child in Israel or anywhere else,” Blinken said.
“So this is something that we have an obligation to respond to, and we will.”
Looking at ‘the day after’
Blinken will spend the day Friday in Israel — his fourth visit since the October 7 Hamas assault, including a trip to accompany Biden — and also head to Jordan and potentially other stops before a previously scheduled trip to Asia.
Jordan, which was the second Arab nation to make peace with Israel, has withdrawn its ambassador to protest the “unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe” caused by the “ongoing Israeli war.”
Biden has vocally backed Israel despite his rocky relationship earlier with Netanyahu, who leads Israel’s most right-wing government in history with members staunchly opposed to the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
Blinken said that the Biden administration still believed that a two-state solution was “the best guarantor — maybe the only guarantor — of a secure Jewish democratic Israel and a Palestinian state to which they’re entitled to.”
“We’re focused on the day of; we also need to be focused on the day after,” Blinken said.
The Biden administration has been openly critical over Israel’s lack of action in the West Bank — administered not by Hamas but the rival Palestinian Authority — against settlers who have attacked Palestinians in tandem with the war in Gaza.
Testifying before Congress earlier this week, Blinken said that the Palestinian Authority — which Netanyahu has long sought to sideline — should eventually take over in the Gaza Strip after an elimination of Hamas.
The latest trip comes after both Yemen’s Al Houthi rebels and Lebanon’s Shiite movement Hezbollah fired rockets or drones at Israel. The two groups are backed by Iran’s clerical state, which openly supports Hamas.
“We are determined to deter any escalation,” Blinken said.
The Biden administration has sent two aircraft carriers to the Eastern Mediterranean in a show of force. Biden also ordered air strikes against sites in Syria linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, although US officials said the moves were retaliation for attacks on US forces and were not intended to escalate the regional conflict.