Blinken Begins Middle East Tour In Turkey For Gaza Talks


U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Istanbul Friday and is expected to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday. His visit is the fourth in the Middle East since the war between Israel and Hamas began on October 7, and it marks a renewed diplomatic effort regarding the management of Gaza after the war, as well as to stop an expansion of the conflict in Gaza to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Lebanon and Red Sea shipping lanes.

Blinken also will reaffirm calls for increased humanitarian aid into Gaza, the State Department said. 

During the weeklong trip, Blinken will visit Israel and the West Bank, in addition to Turkey, Greece, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. 

Blinken’s visit comes as Martin Griffiths, U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, released a statement Friday noting that Gaza “has become a place of death and despair” over the past three months.

“Tens of thousands of people, mostly women and children, have been killed or injured. Families are sleeping in the open as temperatures plummet. Areas where civilians were told to relocate for their safety have come under bombardment. Medical facilities are under relentless attack.”

Heavy fighting continues in central Gaza and the southern city of Khan Younis, where Israeli officials say Hamas’ military structure is still largely intact. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant says several thousand Hamas fighters remain in war-ravaged northern Gaza.

Officials with the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, are quoted as saying a fighter jet attacked positions in the central area of Bureij overnight, killing an “armed terrorist cell” attempting to attack an Israeli tank. The army added that several Palestinian militants were killed in clashes in Khan Younis. 

Israel says it has killed 8,000 militants since the deaths of 1,200 people in the Hamas terror attack on October 7 and announced Thursday it would pursue a more targeted approach against Hamas militants.

But Palestinians in Gaza said Israel intensified its aerial and ground attacks on densely populated Maghazi, Bureij and Nuseirat overnight. In the past 24 hours, 162 people were killed in the center of the coastal strip, Palestinian health officials said.

In the southern Gaza areas of Khan Younis and Rafah, as well as parts of central Gaza, more than 100 targets were struck, including military positions, rocket launch sites and weapons storage facilities, Agence France-Presse quoted the Israeli military as saying.

At least six people were killed in an apparent Israeli airstrike on a home in the southern Gaza city of Rafah overnight.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have evacuated to southern Gaza, where most have been reduced to living in squalor without access to food, clean drinking water or working toilets. 

Israel’s defense minister announced Thursday plans for a new stage in its ongoing war in Gaza, including a more targeted strategy in the territory’s north. There has been no official acceptance by the Israeli government of the defense minister’s plan. 

“In the northern region of the Gaza strip, we will transition to a new combat approach in accordance with military achievements on the ground,” Gallant’s office said in a statement. 

Tactics are set to include raids, demolishing tunnels, air and ground strikes, and special forces operations, Gallant said. 

Israel began its military campaign to wipe out Hamas after Hamas fighters crossed into southern Israel on October 7. Israel said about 1,200 people were killed and some 240 captives taken in the terror attack. 

Some of the hostages have been released, with about 130 still in Gaza. Gaza health officials say more than 22,600 Palestinians, a large percentage of them women and children, have been confirmed killed in Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip. 

The announcement comes amid rising international pressure, including from the United States, to transition to less intense combat. 

Meanwhile, Gallant said Israel will continue to try to eliminate Hamas leaders in Gaza’s south, where most of the territory’s 2.3 million people have been living under brutal conditions for weeks. 

“It will continue for as long as is deemed necessary,” the statement said. 

Under Gallant’s plan, the war in Gaza will continue until all the hostages taken on October 7 are released, Hamas is demolished and remaining military threats are neutralized. 

Once those goals are accomplished, the plan calls for a new phase to begin during which “Hamas will not control Gaza and will not pose a security threat to the citizens of Israel.” Under the plan, unspecified Palestinian entities would govern the territory. 

The outline also said there would be “no Israeli civilian presence in the Gaza Strip after the goals of the war have been achieved,” but Israel would still reserve the right to operate in the territory. 

Washington has suggested that a revitalized Palestinian Authority, which is based in the occupied West Bank, would govern Gaza. 

Earlier Thursday, an Israeli airstrike in Gaza killed 14 people, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, as Israel conducted new airstrikes and ground operations against the Palestinian militant group. 

The Health Ministry said the Israeli strike happened in Khan Younis and that the dead included nine children. 

Israel did not directly comment on the strike but reported carrying out an airstrike in Khan Younis that killed three militants who tried to plant a bomb. The Israeli military said its ground forces killed two other militants in a nearby building. 

Israel also reported Thursday new strikes against Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon and new cross-border rocket launches coming from Lebanon toward Israel. 

The strikes came a day after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, in a televised speech, warned Israel against attacking Lebanon. 

“If the enemy thinks of waging a war on Lebanon, we will fight without restraint, without rules, without limits and without restrictions,” Nasrallah said. 

His comments followed a drone strike that killed a senior Hamas official in Beirut. 

Hamas and security officials in the region attributed the strike that killed Saleh al-Arouri to an Israeli drone, although Israel has not directly acknowledged responsibility. 

Hezbollah — like Hamas, an Iran-backed militant group designated as a terror organization by the United States and others — has been firing rockets across Israel’s northern border since the Israel-Hamas war began in October.


The VOA is the Voice of America

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