Blinken to visit Saudi Arabia, other Arab countries to contain Gaza violence

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday that he would be going to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries this week as the top US diplomat looks to help contain the violence in Gaza.

Blinken, speaking from Israel, said he was going to Jordan to meet with King Abdullah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbass. After that, he will make stops in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Egypt.

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“The Secretary will engage regional partners on efforts to help prevent the conflict from spreading, secure the immediate and safe release of hostages, and identify mechanisms for the protection of civilians,” State Department Spokesman Matt Miller said in a statement.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the deployment of a US aircraft carrier strike group to the Eastern Mediterranean and the augmentation of fighter jets. The USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group arrived in the Eastern Mediterranean to deter any actor seeking to escalate the situation or widen the Gaza-Israel war, the US Central Command said on Tuesday.

The White House later said that the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower was set to arrive in the Mediterranean soon but on a pre-planned mission. “She certainly will be an available asset if needed,” National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

And a senior US defense official said this week that US military posture increases in the Middle East were intended to serve as a deterrent signal to Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and any other proxy in the region thinking about opening a second front against Israel.

There have been cross-border exchanges after rocket and missile attacks from Palestinian factions inside Lebanon resulted in Israeli retaliation against Hezbollah targets. At least three Hezbollah militants have been killed, according to the group.

American hostages

Al Arabiya English reported on Wednesday that Deputy Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Steve Gillen had traveled to Jordan and Israel with Blinken.

Qatar, which hosts a political bureau for Hamas in Doha and has provided millions of dollars in financial aid to Gaza, has been linked to mediation efforts for a prisoner exchange between the Palestinian militant group and Israel.

Late last month, Qatar and Egypt brokered a deal between Hamas and Israel, which saw the reopening of border crossings, allowing Palestinian laborers from Gaza to return to work in Israel.

Blinken was in Tel Aviv on Thursday, where he affirmed that the United States would “always” support Israel and condemned Hamas.

Read more: US warns Lebanon’s Hezbollah not to get involved in Hamas-Israel war

- With agencies

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