Cairo, Egypt, May 26 – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Cairo Wednesday as he presses efforts to shore up an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.
The US top diplomat already met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to throw Washington’s support behind the Friday truce that ended 11 days of heavy Israeli bombing of Gaza and rocket fire from the enclave into Israel.
After talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas at his headquarters in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Blinken vowed to rebuild US relations with the Palestinians by reopening a consulate in Jerusalem, as well as giving millions in aid for the war-battered Gaza Strip.
The announcements signalled a break with US policy under former president Donald Trump, who had shuttered the diplomatic mission for Palestinians in 2019 and slashed aid to the Palestinian Authority.
In the long term, Blinken evoked the “possibility of resuming the effort to achieve a two-state solution, which we continue to believe is the only way to truly assure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, and of course to give the Palestinians the state they’re entitled to”.
After meeting earlier Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he reiterated support for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks by Gaza’s Hamas rulers, adding that they must not benefit from the international reconstruction aid.
In Cairo, Blinken is to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi before flying on to Jordan for talks with King Abdullah II.
Unlike the United States and many European governments, which boycott Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement as a terror group, Egypt maintains regular contacts.
Egypt was also the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.
– Rebuilding Gaza –
Cairo has sent delegations to both Tel Aviv and Gaza to watch over the implementation of the ceasefire and has also been coordinating international relief and reconstruction aid for the Palestinian territory, which has been under Israeli blockade for nearly 15 years.
US President Joe Biden spoke by telephone with his Egyptian counterpart on Monday for the second time in less than a week to discuss the relief effort.
Blinken said Wednesday the United Sates was in the process of providing more than $360 million in assistance to the Palestinian people.
This included $250 million in economic, development, security and humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people announced in March and April.
On top of that, the administration intended to provide $75 million in additional aid to the Palestinians, as well as $5.5 million in immediate disaster assistance for Gaza, and nearly $33 million for an emergency humanitarian appeal by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.
“All of these funds will be administered in a way that benefits the Palestinian people — not Hamas, which has only brought misery and despair to Gaza,” Blinken said.
Last week, Sisi pledged $500 million to help reconstruction efforts in Gaza.
Even before the fighting halted, he had sent ambulances into Gaza to bring out some of the most seriously wounded for treatment in Egyptian hospitals.
He has since sent in food and medical supplies through Egypt’s Rafah border crossing, the only entry point to Gaza not controlled by Israel.
– British FM in Jerusalem –
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab meanwhile travelled to Jerusalem Wednesday, also to back international efforts to shore up the ceasefire.
Speaking ahead of planned talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Raab urged an end to the “cycle of violence” through a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“The events of the last month demonstrate the urgent need to make genuine progress towards a more positive future for both Israelis and Palestinians, and break (the) cycle of violence that has claimed so many lives,” he said.
The latest military escalation started after clashes in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest site, which is also revered by Jews as the Temple Mount.
Israeli security forces had moved in on Palestinian worshippers there towards the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
They had also sought to quell protests against the threatened eviction of Palestinian families from homes in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah to make way for Jewish settlers.
Israeli air strikes and artillery fire on Gaza killed 254 Palestinians, including 66 children, and wounded more than 1,900 people in 11 days of conflict from May 10, the health ministry in Gaza says.
Rocket and other fire from Gaza claimed 12 lives in Israel, including one child and an Arab-Israeli teenager, an Israeli soldier, one Indian national and two Thai workers, medics say. Some 357 people in Israel were wounded.