JERUSALEM (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken
vowed Tuesday to “rally international support” to aid Gaza
following a devastating war there while keeping any aid out of the hands of its militant Hamas
rulers, as he kicked off a regional tour to bolster last week’s cease-fire.
The 11-day war between Israel and Hamas killed over 250 people
, mostly Palestinians
, and caused widespread devastation in the impoverished coastal territory. The truce that went into effect Friday has so far held, but it has not addressed any of the underlying issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
, which Blinken acknowledged after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
“We know that in order to avoid a return to violence, we must use the space
created to address a broader set of underlying issues and challenges, which begins with addressing Gaza’s dire humanitarian situation and beginning to rebuild,” he said.
“The United States
to rally international support for that effort while also making significant contributions,” he said, adding that the US would work with its partners “to ensure that Hamas does not benefit from the reconstruction assistance.”
Blinken will not meet with Hamas, which denies Israel's right to exist and is considered a terrorist organization by both Israel and the United States.
Blinken addressed the larger conflict, saying, "We believe that Palestinians and Israelis alike deserve to live in safety and security, to enjoy equal measures of freedom, opportunity, and democracy
, and to be treated with dignity."
However, the top US diplomat faces the same obstacles that have stymied a broader peace process for more than a decade, including hawkish Israeli leadership, Palestinian divisions, and deeply rooted tensions surrounding Jerusalem and its holy sites. The Biden administration
had initially hoped to avoid becoming embroiled in the intractable conflict and focus on other foreign policy
priorities before the victorious election.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu is fighting for his political life following a fourth inconclusive election in two years, and he is facing mounting criticism from Israelis who claim he ended the offensive prematurely, without forcibly halting rocket
attacks or dealing a more severe blow to Hamas.
In his remarks, Netanyahu barely mentioned Palestinians, warning of a "very powerful" response if Hamas violates the cease-fire.
Netanyahu spoke of “building economic growth” in the occupied West Bank
, but also stated that there will be no peace until the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” The Palestinians have long objected to that language, claiming that it undermines the rights of Israel’s own Palestinian minority.
Weeks of clashes in Jerusalem between Israeli police
and Palestinian protesters in and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque
compound, a site revered by Jews and Muslims that has seen several outbreaks of Israeli-Palestinian violence over the years, sparked the war. The protests were directed at Israel's policing of the area during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as well as the threat of eviction
of dozens of Palestinians.
The cease-fire is still in jeopardy because tensions in Jerusalem remain high and the fate of Palestinian families is still unknown.
The evictions were halted just before the Gaza fighting erupted, but the legal process is set to resume in the coming weeks. Police briefly clashed with protesters at Al-Aqsa on Friday, hours after the cease-fire was declared.
Adding to the tensions, an Israeli soldier and a civilian were stabbed and injured in east Jerusalem
on Monday before police shot and killed the attacker in what they called a terrorist attack.
Then, early Tuesday, a Palestinian man was shot and killed by undercover Israeli forces near the West Bank city of Ramallah, according to Wafa, with images circulating online showing the man bloodied and lying in the street. The Israeli army referred questions to the Border
Police, which did not respond to requests for comment.
Blinken will travel to Ramallah later Tuesday to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has no power in Gaza and has been sidelined by recent events. Abbas is the head of the internationally backed Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the occupied West Bank but whose forces were driven from Gaza when Hamas seized power there in 2007.
Many Palestinians regard Abbas as having lost all legitimacy after calling off the first Palestinian elections
in 15 years last month when it appeared his fractured Fatah movement would suffer an embarrassing defeat. On Friday, worshippers at Al-Aqsa chanted against the Palestinian Authority and in support of Hamas.
However, Abbas is still regarded internationally as the Palestinian people's representative and a key partner in the long-defunct peace process; the Palestine
Liberation Organization, which Abbas leads, recognized Israel decades ago, and the Palestinian Authority maintains close security ties with Israel.
Blinken will also travel to neighboring Egypt and Jordan, both of which have served as conflict mediators. Egypt was successful in brokering the Gaza truce after the Biden administration pressed Israel to end its offensive.
The administration had been roundly chastised for its perceived hands-off initial response to the deadly violence, including from Democratic allies in Congress
who demanded that it take a tougher stance on Israel. Biden repeatedly affirmed Israel's right to defend itself from rocket attacks from Gaza.
The administration has defended its actions by claiming that it engaged in intense, but quiet, high-level diplomacy to support a cease-fire.
Blinken has stated that the time is not ripe for an immediate resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks, but that steps could be taken to repair the damage caused by Israeli airstrikes
on Gaza, which destroyed hundreds of homes and damaged infrastructure
Since Hamas took power, the narrow coastal territory, which is home to more than 2 million Palestinians, has been subjected to a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade. Israel claims the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas from importing weapons, but Palestinians and human rights
organizations see it as collective punishment.
Josef Federman and Ilan Ben Zion of the Associated Press
contributed reporting to this article.