US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken arrived in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, days after an Egypt-brokered truce halted fighting between the Jewish state and the Gaza Strip’s Islamist rulers Hamas.
Blinken, who said earlier his trip would aim to support “efforts to solidify a ceasefire”, was set to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, though he was not to meet Hamas.
He will then travel on to neighbouring Egypt and Jordan.
US President Joe Biden said Blinken would meet “with Israeli leaders about our ironclad commitment to Israel’s security,” as well as seeking to rebuild ties with the Palestinians.
Blinken on Sunday reaffirmed US support for a two-state solution as the only way to provide hope to Israelis and Palestinians that they can live “with equal measures of security, of peace and dignity.”
His remarks about “equal measures” for Israelis and Palestinians seemed to shift the tone from Donald Trump’s administration, which cut aid to the Palestinian Authority and unveiled a Middle East peace plan with strong Israeli backing but no support from Palestinians.
Israeli air strikes and artillery fire on Gaza killed 253 Palestinians, including 66 children, and wounded over 1,900 people in 11 days of conflict from May 10, the health ministry in Gaza says.
Rocket and other fire from Gaza claimed 12 lives in Israel, including one child and an Arab-Israeli teenager, an Israeli soldier, one Indian and two Thais, medics say. Some 357 people in Israel have been wounded.
– Mass arrests –
Blinken’s visit comes as the ceasefire holds, but tensions simmer in Israel and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories.
Israeli police said an attacker stabbed two young Israeli men in Jerusalem on Monday before police shot him dead. The army said one of those wounded was a soldier.
Palestinian news agency WAFA identified the casualty as a 17-year-old Palestinian high school student from annexed east Jerusalem.
In the night of Sunday to Monday, Israeli forces rounded up 43 Palestinians in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, the Palestinian Prisoners Club said.
Israeli police, who operate in east Jerusalem, said late Sunday that they had arrested 1,550 suspects and had charged 150 over the past two weeks over “violent events”.
Peace talks have stalled since 2014, including over the status of east Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The latest military escalation started after bloody clashes in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest site, which is also revered by Jews as the Temple Mount.
Israeli forces had moved in on Palestinian worshippers at the site, toward the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
They had also sought to quell protests against the threatened eviction of Palestinian families from homes in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah to make way for Jewish settlers.
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