Western diplomats seek to prevent Gaza spillover

January 8, 2024 8:15 am

[Source: Reuters]

Top U.S and European diplomats urged leaders in the Middle East to keep the Gaza war from spreading across the region.

Three months into the conflict, more bloodshed underlined the challenge as Israel presses ahead with its offensive.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, were on separate trips to the region to try to quell spillover from the war into Lebanon, the West Bank and Red Sea shipping routes, where Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis have said they will keep up attacks until Israel halts its campaign in the Palestinian enclave.

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“We have an intense focus on preventing this conflict from spreading,” Blinken said at the onset of his trip. He was in Jordan on Sunday and will later travel to Qatar, Israel, the West Bank, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Jordan’s King Abdullah urged Blinken to use Washington’s influence over Israel to press it for an immediate ceasefire, a palace statement said, warning him of the “catastrophic repercussions” of Israel’s continued military campaign.

Despite global concern over the death and destruction in Gaza and widespread calls for a ceasefire, Israeli public opinion remains firmly behind the operation aimed at wiping out the Hamas group that rules Gaza, although support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has fallen sharply.

He has vowed to press on with the retaliatory action.

“The war must not be stopped until we achieve all the goals – the elimination of Hamas, the return of all our hostages and ensuring that Gaza will no longer pose a threat to Israel,” Netanyahu said at the start of a weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday. “I say this to both our enemies and our friends.”

Some 1,200 people were killed and 240 were taken hostage on Oct. 7, according to Israeli officials. More than 100 hostages are still believed to be held by Hamas.

For Israelis, the deadliest day in the country’s history and the accounts of atrocities that later emerged left a sense that its survival was at stake.

Israel’s offensive has so far killed 22,835 Palestinians in Gaza, after 111 dead and 250 wounded were added to the tally over the past 24 hours, Palestinian health officials said on Sunday.

An Israeli air strike on a car near Rafah in southern Gaza on Sunday killed two Palestinian journalists, according to health officials in Gaza and the journalists’ union there.

Separately, the health ministry said Israeli drones had opened fire on buildings at the Shuhada Al-Aqsa hospital in the central Gaza Strip.

There were no reports of injuries but ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra accused Israel of trying to undermine work at the hospital, which serves hundred of thousands of Palestinians in central Gaza – the focus of a heavier Israeli ground and air offensive in the past two weeks.

Israel denies targeting civilians and says Hamas militants deliberately embed themselves among civilian populations. Hamas, which is backed by Iran and is sworn to Israel’s destruction, denies that.

The fighting has displaced most of Gaza’s 2.3 million population, with many homes and civilian infrastructure left in ruins amid acute shortages of food, water and medicine.

“We hope that … Blinken looks at us with an eye of mercy, ends the war, ends the misery we are living in,” Um Mohamad Al-Arqan said, as she stood by the tent where she is living.

Meeting King Abdullah in Amman, Blinken “stressed U.S. opposition to forcible displacement of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza and the critical need to protect Palestinian civilians in the West Bank from extremist settler violence,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement.

Blinken is due in Doha next, where he will discuss with Qatari leaders efforts to free hostages still believed to be held by Hamas after an earlier agreement mediated by Qatar broke down, a senior State Department official said.

He will also aim to press hesitant Muslim nations in the Middle East to prepare to play a role in the reconstruction, governance and security of Gaza if and when Israel manages to eliminate Hamas, an official said.

Gun battles intensified in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis as well as in central districts of the densely populated enclave. Israeli strikes on houses in the city killed 50 people, health officials in Nasser Hospital said on Sunday.

Outside Gaza, there was more violence in the occupied West Bank. Israeli aircraft fired on Palestinian militants who had attacked troops in the area, the military said, and Palestinian health officials said seven Palestinians died in the strike.

An Israeli border police officer was killed and others wounded when their vehicle was hit by an explosive device during operations in the West Bank city of Jenin, the military and police said.

Israeli police killed a young Palestinian girl in a car at a West Bank crossing when they opened fire on another car suspected of a ramming attack, Israeli emergency services said.

The West Bank had already seen its highest levels of unrest in decades during the 18 months before the Gaza war, and confrontations have since escalated. Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers and settlers over the past weeks.