US State Secretary Blinken heads to Mideast

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Washington

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading to the Middle East to press the Israelis, Palestinians and regional players to build on last week’s Gaza ceasefire by laying the groundwork for an eventual resumption in long-stalled peace talks.

President Joe Biden announced Blinken would depart on Monday for a short visit to Israel, the West Bank, Jordan and Egypt for what will be the Biden administration’s highest-level in-person meetings on the crisis that erupted earlier this month.

In a statement, Biden said Blinken will also work with regional partners to ensure “the coordinated international effort to ensure immediate assistance reaches Gaza”.

The administration had been roundly criticised for its perceived hands-off initial response to the deadly violence, including from Democratic allies in Congress who were demanding it take a tougher line on Israel and its response to rocket attacks from Palestinian militant groups in Gaza.

The administration has defended its response by saying it engaged in intense, but quiet, high-level diplomacy to support a ceasefire, which was ultimately arranged last week after Egyptian mediation.

Blinken said on Sunday that the behind-the scenes effort led by Biden paid off, securing a truce after 11 days. “President Biden leading this effort made the judgment that we could be most effective in doing that.

And ultimately, after this intensive effort across the government, we got to where every one wanted to be, which was to end the violence,” he said in an interview with CNN.—A

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