Bipartisan group of US senators heads to Saudi Arabia as Middle East violence expands

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A bipartisan group of US senators, including a close aide to President Joe Biden and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, traveled to Saudi Arabia after heightened fears of violence spilling over from Gaza and Israel into the region.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, led the delegation, which is set to meet with Saudi officials to discuss the latest developments in the Middle East following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

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“The United States and Saudi Arabia have a common interest in preserving the stability, security, and prosperity of the Gulf region and consult closely on a wide range of regional and global issues,” Graham’s office said. “Saudi Arabia plays an important role in working toward a peaceful and prosperous future for the region.”

Among the lawmakers making the trip are Richard Blumenthal, Cory Booker, Katie Britt, Ben Cardin, Susan Collins, Chris Coons, Jack Reed, Dan Sullivan, and John Thune.

Washington and Riyadh have been at odds over Gaza, with the latter demanding a ceasefire and an immediate halt to Israeli targeting of civilians.

The US has said that Israel has the right to defend itself with the means it deems necessary. Biden administration officials placed little attention or focus on the need to protect Palestinian civilians in the aftermath of the Hamas attack.

But recently, that tone has shifted with the US calling for any Israeli response to be done in line with international humanitarian law.

Graham has been a strong supporter of the Biden administration’s efforts to push for normalization of ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel. The diplomatic push appeared to be getting closer, as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in an interview with Fox News last month. However, the Israeli response has temporarily put a potential deal on hold.

Saudi Arabia has previously called for, and continues to demand, an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, currently heading the most extreme government in Israel’s history, showed a map without Palestine during his speech at the UN General Assembly in September.

Read more: Saudi Arabia slams Israeli calls for Palestinians to leave Gaza