U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press conference following meetings at the Danish Foreign Ministry at Eigtved Warehouse in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 17, 2021.
Saul Loeb | Reuters
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit the Middle East this week after nearly two weeks of fighting between Israel and the Palestinians, a White House statement said on Monday.
“Following our silent and intensive diplomacy to achieve a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, I have asked my Secretary of State, Tony Blinken, to visit the Middle East this week,” reads one in President Joe Biden’s statement, stressing that part of the trip would involve a Blinken meeting with Israeli leaders “about our absolute commitment to Israel’s security.”
Blinken is also expected to focus on the US-Palestinian relationship, which Biden’s statement described as “our administration’s efforts to rebuild ties with the Palestinian people and leadership, and their support, after years of neglect.”
The Israeli security cabinet voted on Thursday to approve an interim ceasefire after 11 days of fighting with Hamas in Israel and the Gaza Strip, the worst violence the region has seen since 2014. The negotiations leading to the ceasefire were reportedly led by Egypt, the only country with open lines of communication both to Israel and to Hamas, the political party and the United States-designated terrorist group that rules the Gaza strip.
Israeli airstrikes and internal fighting killed more than 220 Palestinians in Gaza in 11 days, including more than 100 women and children. Meanwhile, Hamas fired more than 4,000 rockets at Israel, killing 12 people, including two children.
Biden has been criticized by human rights groups and progressive Democrats for perceived inaction as the conflict escalates and for his administration’s continued financial and military support to Israel. His administration has rekindled some support for the Palestinians, restoring $ 235 million in U.S. aid – most of which will go to the UN refugee program for Palestinians – which was cut completely under the Trump administration.
The United States provides Israel $ 3.8 billion a year in military aid. And in early May, before the fighting began, the Biden administration approved the sale of $ 735 million in precision-guided munitions to Israel – a sale that several progressive Democrats are now trying to stop.
A Palestinian woman carries her child amid the rubble of their homes that were destroyed by Israeli airstrikes during the Israel-Hamas fighting in Gaza on May 23, 2021.
Mohammed Salem | Reuters
Violence in the blockaded Gaza Strip, the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Jerusalem and several parts of Israel was sparked after the forced evictions of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem by the Israeli government sparked protests .
The largely peaceful protests prompted a harsh response from Israeli law enforcement – which included the firing of stun grenades into the Al Aqsa Mosque during Islamic prayers – and subsequent rocket launches into Israel by Hamas, who governs the Gaza Strip.
Israel responded with airstrikes which the army said targeted Hamas but shelled several civilian homes as well as a building housing foreign media, including the Associated Press.
Israel has occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem since its 1967 war, building Jewish settlements there that the majority of the international community considers illegal under international law. Israel rejects this.