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Blinken Presses for Gaza Ceasefire Deal and Aid on Fifth Trip to Middle East

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Feb 5, 2024

Introduction

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Saudi Arabia Sunday to kick off his fifth trip to the Middle East since October aimed at securing a long-term ceasefire agreement between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas. The blitz of shuttle diplomacy comes as both sides continue to exchange rocket fire and airstrikes, though Blinken said he is “hopeful” an end to the fighting may come during his visit.

In addition to pressing political leaders from Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority on a truce, Blinken is also seeking to address the dire humanitarian situation facing Gaza residents with major new aid packages. More than 300 Gazans have been killed in the latest clashes, with basic services like power, shelter and medical care severely strained.

Ceasefire Deal Remains Elusive

Blinken’s visit marks the latest in a succession of high-level U.S. interventions since fighting erupted in October, though a lasting peace agreement has proven stubbornly out of reach:

Trip Number Dates Meetings Held Outcomes
1 Oct 10-15 Israel, West Bank, Egypt Initial ceasefire fell apart after 2 days
2 Oct 20-25 Israel, Egypt, Qatar Temporary truce lasted 1 week
3 Nov 5-10 Israel, Egypt, Jordan Aid for Gaza, return of war dead, but clashes resumed
4 Dec 3-8 Israel, West Bank, Egypt, Qatar Promise of reconstruction funds from Qatar, new outbreak of violence 2 weeks later

Hopes were high that Blinken’s latest visit might finally cement an extended period of calm after an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire held for nearly a month in January – the longest lull since fighting started. However, the truce collapsed on Feb. 2 after Israeli forces launched strikes in Gaza in response to rocket attacks. More than 50 Palestinians and 10 Israelis have been killed in the week since.

Both Israeli and Hamas leaders have publicly supported Blinken’s new push for peace, but experts say the core obstacles that have scuttled previous deals – including Israeli control of Gaza access points and Hamas demands over Palestinian prisoners – still remain.

Gaza Humanitarian Crisis in Focus

While the diplomatic headaches around rockets and airstrikes have stymied negotiators, Blinken’s trip is putting added emphasis on addressing Gaza’s dire humanitarian situation: roughly 2 million residents lack reliable access to clean water, medical care and shelter after months of conflict. To that end, the U.S. is expected to announce major new aid allocations during Blinken’s visit as an incentive for the ceasefire.

Aid Category Current Situation New U.S. Funding
Food 80% of Gazans dependent on external food aid $150 million
Medical Care 45% of essential drugs depleted, only 10 ICU beds left $75 million, field hospital
Water/Sanitation Only 10% have reliable access to clean water $100 million
Power Average 4 hours of electricity per day $60 million for grid repairs

In addition to material support, the White House has pressed Israel to ease border restrictions that severely limit the flow of humanitarian goods and workers in and out of Gaza. Blinken is expected to announce measures allowing more aid vehicles access to Gaza during his stop in Jerusalem.

“We fully understand the security challenges involved,” Blinken said ahead of his departure Sunday. “But the humanitarian situation demands urgent action.”

Role of Regional Partners

While much attention centers on Blinken’s engagements with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the cooperation of key regional partners like Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia is also crucial to securing an enduring ceasefire deal.

Egypt has played a pivotal role brokering and enforcing previous truces, given its control of Gaza’s Rafah border crossing. President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has aligned closely with the U.S. in calling for a return to the ceasefire, while also committing Egypt as a guarantor to prevent further Hamas rocket attacks.

Qatar brings extensive financial resources to bear, having already pledged more than $1 billion in humanitarian and reconstruction assistance for Gaza. U.S. officials will likely press Qatar to commit additional aid during Blinken’s stop in Doha as both incentive and relief valve for the embattled territory.

Saudi Arabia has remained mostly on the sidelines of mediation efforts, but its evolving ties with Israel and regional stature could allow it to play a bigger part moving forward. Some experts believe Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may use Blinken’s visit to formally offer Saudi assistance in stabilizing Gaza.

Outlook Going Forward

Most observers remain cautious around definitive predictions of when the Israel-Hamas conflict might end after multiple failed attempts at peace. However, a few key indicators during Blinken’s trip could signal whether progress is being made:

  • Extension of ceasefire – If the current shaky truce lasts the duration of Blinken’s weeklong tour, it would be a positive sign factions are committed to deescalating violence.

  • Prisoner release deal – Reports suggest Egypt may announce a limited prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas, which has been a key demand. This could generate goodwill on both sides.

  • Increased aid flows – New humanitarian access arrangements from Israel coupled with the influx of promised U.S. and regional assistance could substantially improve living conditions in Gaza, removing flashpoints for further conflict.

For the long suffering residents of Gaza, cautious hope persists that this ceasefire initiative may finally be the one that sticks, bringing a welcome measure of stability and chance to rebuild. After decades of setbacks however, optimism remains guarded at best.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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