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Senior US, French officials in Middle East seeking to ease Gaza war

3 min

French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said on Monday talks on a ceasefire in Gaza were progressing as he joined U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Saudi Arabia on a diplomatic push to ease the war between Israel and Hamas.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a Joint Ministerial Meeting of the GCC-U.S. Strategic Partnership to discuss the humanitarian crises faced in Gaza, in Riyadh, April 29, 2024. Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein/Pool

French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said on Monday talks on a ceasefire in Gaza were progressing as he joined U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Saudi Arabia on a diplomatic push to ease the war between Israel and Hamas.

Sejourne was expected to hold talks in Riyadh with ministers of Arab and other Western countries as well as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

"Things are moving forward but you always have to be careful in these discussions and negotiations. The situation in Gaza is catastrophic and we need a ceasefire," Sejourne told Reuters on the sidelines of a World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting.

"We will discuss the hostages, humanitarian situation and the ceasefire. Things are progressing, but we must always remain prudent in these discussions and negotiations."

Blinken arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday, the first stop in a broader trip to the Middle East.

Hamas fighters attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel retaliated by imposing a total siege on Gaza, then mounting an air and ground assault that has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to health authorities in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Palestinians have been suffering from severe shortages of food, fuel and medicine in a humanitarian crisis that has accompanied an Israeli military offensive that has demolished much of the impoverished strip.

Blinken, speaking at the opening of a meeting with Gulf Arab states, said the most effective way to address the humanitarian crisis and create space for a more lasting solution was to get a ceasefire that allowed the release of hostages held by Hamas.

"We still need to get more aid in and around Gaza. We need to improve deconfliction with the humanitarian assistance workers. And we have to find greater efficiency and greater safety, and deconfliction is at the heart of that," he said.

In Riyadh, Blinken is expected to discuss with Arab foreign ministers what the governance of the Gaza Strip might look like after the Israel-Hamas war ends, according to a senior State Department official.

Blinken is also expected to bring together Arab and European countries and discuss how Europe can help reconstruction efforts in the Gaza Strip, which has been reduced to a wasteland in a six-month-long Israeli bombardment.

Jordanian Prime Minister Bisher al Khasawneh said all parties needed to find a path towards a two-state solution to the conflict or the Middle East risked another catastrophe.

"What we have to look at is an irreversible pathway towards realising a two-state solution that we are not in this bind again in a couple of years and drag the region and perhaps the entire world into further tension and endanger global peace and security," he said at the WEF meeting in Riyadh.

Israeli airstrikes on three houses in the southern Gaza city of Rafah killed at least 20 Palestinians and wounded many others, medics said on Monday, as Egyptian and Qatari mediators were expected to hold a new round of ceasefire talks with Hamas leaders in Cairo.

An assault on Rafah, which Israel says is the last Hamas stronghold in Gaza, has been anticipated for weeks but foreign governments and the United Nations have expressed concern that such action could result in a humanitarian disaster given the number of displaced people crammed into the area.

Conversations about Gaza's rebuilding and governance have been going on for months with a clear mechanism yet to emerge.

The United States agrees with Israel's objective that Hamas needs to be eradicated and cannot play a role in Gaza’s future, but Washington does not want Israel to re-occupy the enclave.

Instead, it has been looking at a structure that will include a reformed Palestinian Authority - which exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank - with support from Arab states.

Blinken will also discuss with Saudi authorities efforts for a normalisation accord between the kingdom and Israel, a deal that includes Washington giving Riyadh agreements on bilateral defence and security commitments as well as nuclear cooperation.

In return for normalisation, Arab states and Washington are pushing for Israel to agree to a pathway for Palestinian statehood, something Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected.

From Riyadh, Blinken will head to Jordan and Israel and the focus of the trip will shift to the efforts to improve the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.

By Humeyra Pamuk and John Irish


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