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Blinken launches urgent middle east mission

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Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, embarked on his fifth tour of the Middle East on Monday, aiming to broker a new truce in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

The southern Gaza Strip continues to witness intense fighting as Israel pushes further towards densely populated areas.

Blinken’s itinerary includes visits to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, and Qatar.

He emphasized the urgent need to address humanitarian concerns in Gaza, echoing the alarm raised by aid groups over the devastating impact of the nearly four-month-long conflict.

Described as a “pressure cooker of despair” by the United Nations, the city of Rafah now hosts over half of Gaza’s population displaced by the conflict. Israel’s ground forces have advanced towards Rafah, with concerns of further escalation.

Over the weekend, Israeli artillery shelling was reported in eastern Rafah and Khan Yunis, targeting areas believed to house high-ranking Hamas officials.

The toll on civilians is severe, with at least 128 people, predominantly women and children, killed in Israeli strikes overnight to Monday.

Blinken’s visit is crucial as he seeks to discuss a proposed truce formulated in a Paris meeting in January involving top US, Israeli, Egyptian, and Qatari officials.

The proposed truce, aiming for an initial six-week pause in fighting, hinges on complex negotiations involving the release of hostages by Hamas in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Despite diplomatic efforts, no agreement has been reached yet, and some Israeli officials remain opposed to perceived concessions. The conflict, triggered by Hamas’s attack on Israel in October, has resulted in significant casualties, displacements, and a dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) faces controversy as 12 staff members are accused of involvement in Hamas’s October attack. Funding suspensions by more than a dozen countries, including the United States, threaten the agency’s ability to provide vital aid to over 1.1 million people in Gaza.

As Blinken focuses on addressing the humanitarian crisis during his visit, tensions escalate between key allies. Israel’s National Security Minister criticizes US President Joe Biden for providing humanitarian aid to Gaza, while internal divisions in Israel add complexity to the situation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces public discontent over the fate of remaining hostages, with calls for early elections in Tel Aviv. Additionally, Israel confronts daily rocket fire from Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon, prompting concerns about a potential military response in the north.

The situation remains precarious, with Blinken’s mission seeking to navigate complex diplomatic challenges and address the urgent humanitarian needs in the region.

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