WASHINGTON, D.C. – Washington is concerned the security situation between the Israelis and Palestinians could worsen ahead of a visit to the Middle East by Secretary of State Antony Blinken starting on Sunday, a U.S. official said, after a deadly raid by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank on Thursday.
The top U.S. diplomat will travel to Egypt, Israel and the West Bank amid spiraling tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.
The visit was announced just hours after Israeli commandos killed nine Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, according to Palestinian officials, the largest single death toll in years of fighting.
The top U.S. State Department official on the Middle East, Barbara Leaf, said the reported civilian deaths were “quite regrettable.”
“And then obviously there is the potential for things to worsen in security terms,” Leaf told reporters on a telephone briefing, adding she had spoken several times to U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides, as well as to Israeli and Palestinian officials, on Thursday morning.
The United States was urging de-escalation and coordination between Israeli and Palestinian security forces, Leaf said, even as the Palestinian authority said it was ending cooperation with Israel in the wake of the raid.
Blinken’s visit is his first since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new right-wing government came to power after the elections in November, stirring concern at home and abroad, given some coalition members’ opposition to Palestinian statehood and other hard-line views.
Announcing Blinken’s visit, the State Department said that in meetings with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Blinken will discuss the importance of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, among other issues.
Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement that Blinken would also discuss the importance of upholding the status quo around the Haram al-Sharif or Temple Mount, where a visit by Itamar Ben-Gvir, the new far-right security minister, recently stirred outrage among Palestinians. The decades-old status quo allows only Muslim worship at the compound, a site also revered by Jews.
Blinken’s trip comes on the heels of a visit by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan to Israel last week, where he discussed the war in Ukraine and concerns over U.S. regional adversary Iran’s support for Russia’s invasion through the provision of drones.
While Israel has condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it has limited its assistance to Kyiv to humanitarian aid and protective gear.
In Cairo, Blinken will meet with President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and other Egyptian officials, aimed at strengthening the two countries’ strategic partnership and bolstering their shared support for elections in Libya and talks to form a civilian government in Sudan after a 2021 military coup, Price said.
Saudi Arabia condemns Israeli raid in Jenin
On Thursday, Saudi Arabia strongly condemned a raid by Israeli commandos on the Palestinian town of Jenin that killed seven people and injured two, state news agency SPA reported.
The Saudi foreign ministry said it denounced Israeli forces’ “storming of the city” that led to “the fall of a number of victims.”
The ministry said Saudi Arabia rejected “serious violations of international law by the Israeli occupation forces” and called on the international community to take responsibility to “end the occupation, stop the Israeli escalation and aggressions and provide the necessary protection for civilians,” SPA said.
Kuwait and Oman also condemned the attack, their state news agencies said on Thursday.
Palestinians and Israelis exchange fire in Gaza
On Friday, Palestinian fighters fired two rockets from the Gaza Strip towards southern Israel that were intercepted by missile defenses, and Israel then carried out strikes in Gaza.
The cross-border fire came after an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank on Thursday that led to the largest single death toll in years of fighting.
The overnight rockets triggered sirens in Israeli communities near the border with Gaza, warning residents to take shelter. There were no reports of injuries.
Israel’s military said it had carried out strikes in Gaza. Palestinian witnesses said Israeli aircraft had targeted a Hamas training camp. No injuries were reported.
– Reuters. Edited for style.
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