U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a media conference in Prague, Czech Republic, May 31, 2024.

Blinken to travel to Middle East to press for Gaza cease-fire

WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to the Middle East next week, the U.S. State Department said on Friday, as Washington tries to put pressure on Israel and Hamas to accept a cease-fire proposal that President Joe Biden laid out last week.

In his eighth visit to the region since Hamas militants staged a terror attack in Israel on October 7, triggering the latest flare-up in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the top U.S. diplomat will visit Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Qatar and meet with their senior leaders.

Blinken’s visit comes after Biden laid out a fresh cease-fire plan to end the 8-month-long war and at a time when tensions between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah have escalated in recent days, with both sides signaling a readiness for a bigger confrontation.

“The Secretary will discuss how the ceasefire proposal would benefit both Israelis and Palestinians,” the State Department said in a statement. “He will underscore that it would alleviate suffering in Gaza, enable a massive surge in humanitarian assistance and allow Palestinians to return to their neighborhoods.”

Talks mediated by Egypt, Qatar and others to arrange a cease-fire between Israel and the militant Hamas movement in the Gaza war have repeatedly stalled, with each side blaming the other for the lack of progress.

The cease-fire, the State Department said, would also unlock the possibility of achieving calm along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon and set conditions for further integration between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

“The Secretary will also continue to reiterate the need to prevent the conflict from escalating further,” it added.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday that Israel was prepared for strong action in the north. He warned in December that Beirut would be turned “into Gaza” if Hezbollah started an all-out war.

The Israel-Hamas war began when Hamas-led Palestinian fighters attacked southern Israel from Gaza, killing more than 1,200 people, and seizing more than 250 as hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

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