US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is on another multi-day tour of the Middle East, where this time Arab leaders have finally acquiesced to meet with him as the Gaza crisis continues, at a moment the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) say that Gaza City is surrounded.
On Sunday Blinken visited Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, to meet with President Mahmoud Abbas of the internationally backed Palestinian Authority (PA). Blinken reportedly told Abbas that the US is pressing Israel to “minimize civilian harm”. He had some interesting ideas on how to do that.
Blinken had previously again met with Netanyahu Friday where according to fresh reports he pressed the Israeli prime minister to use “smaller bombs”.
“U.S. officials told the Israelis that they could reduce civilian casualties if they improved how they targeted Hamas leaders, gathered more intelligence on Hamas command and control networks before launching strikes, used smaller bombs to collapse the tunnel network and employed their ground forces to separate civilian population centers from where the militants are concentrated,” The New York Times reported.
Blinken of course stressed Israel’s “right to defend itself” but still pressed for a humanitarian “pause”. In Ramallah, he vowed to Abbas that the US will step up humanitarian aid efforts to the besieged Gaza Strip.
According to the latest grim figures, some 1.5 million Gazans have now been internally displaced:
The UN agency OCHA has said that of them, 710,275 are sheltering in 149 UNRWA facilities, 122,000 people are in hospitals, churches, and public buildings, 109,755 people are in 89 non-UNRWA schools, and the remainder are residing with host families.
Palestinian Authority leaders have charged that Israel is conducting “ethnic cleansing” – also by encouraging Palestinians to leave the entire northern half of the Strip while under bombardment.
Abbas has yet to publicly condemn Hamas’ Oct.7 terror attack, with the NY Times saying if he did so it would create severe backlash among his own population, also at a moment of increased sporadic fighting in the West Bank:
Still, he has not publicly condemned Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks, largely out of fear of inflaming sentiment among Palestinians, with whom he is deeply unpopular. He has called more generally for a cease-fire and protections for Palestinian civilians, including in the West Bank.
Mr. Abbas echoed those messages on Sunday in his meetings with Mr. Blinken, according to Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency. It said Mr. Abbas had called for “an immediate halt” to the war in Gaza and an end to the attacks in the West Bank, which he described as “no less horrific.”
The U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken rebuffed calls from his counterparts in Egypt and Jordan for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza, saying that a halt would allow Hamas to repeat its Oct. 7 attack on Israel. https://t.co/7tds2ilvgU pic.twitter.com/3YYsQtC2IZ
— The New York Times (@nytimes) November 4, 2023
Interestingly, Abbas told Blinken that the Palestinian Authority could assume power in a post-conflict Gaza. This comes after Blinken earlier said the US remains open to the possibility of an international peacekeeping force to assume control in Gaza. Abbas stipulated the following:
But Abbas said the Palestinian Authority would only assume power in Gaza as part of a “comprehensive political solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to the Palestinians’ official WAFA news agency. Abbas condemned Israel’s bombardment of Gaza as a “genocidal war” and urged Blinken “to immediately stop them from committing such crimes,” the agency reported.
Over the weekend the death toll from Israel’s air and ground campaign in Gaza surpassed 9,500 killed – with some half of these being women and children. Some 240 Israeli and foreign hostages are still being held in the Gaza strip, though there are reports some may have been killed. Possibly dozens of IDF troops have been killed and wounded amid the ground operation, but Israel has been slow to publish these figures.