Blinken to meet with leaders of Saudi Arabia, UAE with aim to avert larger Middle East war

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he boards an aircraft during his departure from Washington to travel to the Middle East, amid the Israel-Hamas conflict, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., January 4, 2024. 

Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to meet with the leaders of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in their respective countries on Monday, ahead of travel to Israel as Washington seeks to contain regional spillover from the Israel-Hamas war.

“This is a moment of profound tension for the region. This is a conflict that could easily metastasize, causing even more insecurity and suffering,” Blinken told reporters in Doha after meeting with Qatar’s leadership on Sunday.

The Middle East trip follows the assassination by drone of deputy Hamas chief Saleh al-Arouri in Beirut, which Hamas has blamed on Israel. Israel has not publicly taken responsibility for the killing, which is one of the latest flashpoints in its war with the Palestinian militant group which has been raging for three months and shows no sign of subsiding.

Israeli soldiers have also exchanged fire with Iran-backed Hezbollah militants across Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.

Many U.S. officials now fear that the fighting will draw Hezbollah and Lebanon into the war, a shift that could see Iran up its involvement as well. Hezbollah, the most powerful militant and political organization in Lebanon, has been described by analysts as having 10 times the power and military capabilities as Hamas.

Meanwhile, casualties in Gaza amid Israel’s relentless offensive continue to climb. Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says that more than 22,800 people have been killed and the vast majority of the besieged enclave’s population has been displaced, as the United Nations and World Health Organization plead for more humanitarian aid as disease and starvation set in.

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Blinken has frequently urged Israel to ensure civilian protections and lamented that too many innocent Palestinians have been killed, but the Biden administration so far shows no sign of reducing or conditioning its military and financial support of its close ally.

The Israeli offensive began in response to the Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Hamas and other militant Palestinian groups, a violent rampage across southern Israel that killed 1,200 people and took another 240 hostage.

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