Blinken extending his Middle East shuttle diplomacy

Published October 16, 2023
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the media before boarding his plane in Cairo en route to Jordan, on Sunday.—AFP
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the media before boarding his plane in Cairo en route to Jordan, on Sunday.—AFP

CAIRO: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will return to Israel on Monday, a senior State Department official said, extending his Middle East shuttle diplomacy by a day.

Earlier in Riyadh, Blinken was invited for a dawn closed-door meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Sunday. “Very productive,” Blinken said when asked about the meeting with the Saudi prince, known by his initials MBS.

Prince Mohammed in turn spoke of Saudi outreach “to calm the situation”, the official Saudi Press Agency said — an effort that has involved a call to President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran.

The crown prince also reiterated his country’s condemnation of attacks on civilians while stressing the need for Palestinians to “obtain their legitimate rights and achieve just and lasting peace”.

Blinken then flew to Cairo, where he said he had “a very good conversation” with President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, whose administration has repeatedly brokered truces between Hamas and Israel.

In his meeting with Blinken on Sunday, Sisi said “Israel’s response has gone beyond the right to self- defence and amounts to collective punishment”, as the United Nations warned of worsening humanitarian conditions in Gaza.

Beyond the scope’

Israeli actions in Gaza have gone “beyond the scope of self-defence” and the Israeli government must “cease its collective punishment of the people of Gaza”, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in remarks published on Sunday.

Wang’s remarks were made in a call to his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan on Saturday. “Israel’s actions have gone beyond the scope of self-defence,” Wang said according to a foreign ministry readout.

“(Israel) should listen earnestly to the calls of the international community and the UN secretary general, and cease its collective punishment of the people of Gaza,” Wang added in what is the strongest stance China has expressed so far on the conflict.

Meanwhile, Iran has warned Israel of escalation if it failed to end aggressions against Palestinians, with its foreign minister saying other parties in the region were ready to act, the semi-official Fars news agency reported on Sunday.

“If the Zionist aggression does not stop, the hands of all parties in the region are on the trigger,” Hossein Amirabdollahian was quoted as saying.

“The responsibility for the possible opening of new fronts of resistance in the region and any escalation of today’s war directly falls on the United States and the Zionist regime (Israel),” Amirabdollahian said.

In addition, Amirabdollahian met Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Qatar on Saturday, where they discussed unrest in the region “and agreed to continue cooperation” to achieve the group’s goals, the Hamas said in a statement.

Earlier, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi urged France to help “prevent oppression” of Palestinians in a phone call with his counterpart Emmanuel Macron.

‘Under siege’

Leaders of the 27 European Union member states on Sunday reiterated the “importance of the provision of urgent humanitarian aid” in Gaza, saying that “It is crucial to prevent regional escalation” of the conflict, a statement said.

EU leaders said that they “remain committed to a lasting and sustainable peace based on the two-state solution through reinvigorated efforts in the Middle East Peace Process”, the statement added.

Pope Francis on Sunday called for humanitarian corridors to help those under siege in Gaza and again appealed for the release of prisoners held by Hamas.

“I forcefully ask that children, the sick, the elderly and women, and all civilians do not become the victims of the conflict,” he said at his weekly address to thousands of people in St Peter’s Square. Published in Dawn, October 16th, 2023

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