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Secretary of State Blinken heads to the Middle East on the heels of Israeli-Palestinian violence

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a news conference following meetings at the Danish Foreign Ministry, Eigtved’s Warehouse, in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 17, 2021.

Saul Loeb | Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will head to the Middle East this week on the heels of nearly two weeks of fighting between Israel and Palestinians, a White House statement said Monday.

“Following up on our quiet, intensive diplomacy to bring about a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, I have asked my Secretary of State, Tony Blinken, to travel to the Middle East this week,” the statement from President Joe Biden read, emphasizing that part of the trip would involve Blinken meeting with Israeli leaders “about our ironclad commitment to Israel’s security.”

Blinken is also slated to focus on the U.S.-Palestinian relationship, which the Biden statement described as “our Administration’s efforts to rebuild ties to, and support for, the Palestinian people and leaders, after years of neglect.”

Israel’s security cabinet voted Thursday to approve a tentative cease-fire after 11 days of fighting with Hamas in Israel and the Gaza Strip, the worst violence the area has seen since 2014. Negotiations leading to the cease-fire were reportedly led by Egypt, the only country with open communication lines to both Israel and to Hamas, the political party and U.S.-designated terrorist group that governs the Gaza Strip.

Israeli airstrikes and internecine fighting killed more than 220 Palestinians in Gaza over 11 days, including more than 100 women and children. During that time Hamas fired more than 4,000 rockets into Israel, killing 12 people there, two of which were children.

Biden came under fire from human rights groups and progressive Democrats for perceived inaction as the conflict escalated and for his administration’s continued financial and military support for Israel. His administration has revived some support for Palestinians, restoring $235 million in U.S. aid — most of which will go to the UN’s refugee program for Palestinians — which was completely cut under the Trump administration.

The U.S. provides Israel with $3.8 billion annually in military aid. And in early May before the fighting began, the Biden administration approved a sale of $735 million in precision-guided munitions to Israel — a sale that several progressive Democrats are now trying to halt.

A Palestinian woman carries her child amid the rubble of their houses which were destroyed by Israeli air strikes during the Israel-Hamas fighting in Gaza May 23, 2021.

Mohammed Salem | Reuters

The violence in the blockaded Gaza Strip, the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Jerusalem and several places in Israel was triggered after forced evictions of Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem by the Israeli government prompted protests.

The demonstrations, largely peaceful, brought on a harsh Israeli law enforcement response — which included firing stun grenades into the Al Aqsa mosque during Islamic prayers — and subsequent rocket launches into Israel by Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip.

Israel responded with airstrikes that the military said was targeted at Hamas, but in the process bombed multiple civilian homes as well as a building housing foreign media outlets including the Associated Press.

Israel has occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem since its 1967 war, building Jewish settlements there that the majority of the international community considers illegal under international law. Israel rejects this.

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