- Blinken returned to Israel after visiting six Arab countries.
- US shares Israel’s “concern” Hamas may seize aid entering Gaza.
- Around 500,000 Israelis have been evacuated, displaced.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has announced that President Joe Biden is set to pay a solidarity visit to Israel, soon after revealing that Tel Aviv agreed to devise a plan for providing humanitarian aid to Gaza’s civilians.
During the visit, the top US diplomat said Biden will discuss plans to reduce the number of civilian deaths during wartime, amid a rising humanitarian crisis, while preventing Hamas from benefiting.
Blinken announced his decision for the aid plan after 9 hours of negotiations with Netanyahu, which lasted until early Tuesday, after their meeting was disrupted by air raid sirens warning of incoming Palestinian rocket fire, forcing them to temporarily shelter in a bunker.
Blinken, on his fifth day of round-the-clock diplomacy in the region, returned to Israel after visiting six Arab countries in four days to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where Israeli bombardment has martyred over 2,800 Palestinians and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.
“Today, and at our request, the United States and Israel have agreed to develop a plan that will enable humanitarian aid from donor nations and multilateral organisations to reach civilians in Gaza,” Blinken told reporters.
Blinken said the US shared Israel’s “concern” that Hamas may seize or destroy aid entering Gaza, or prevent it from reaching people in need, Reuters reported.
“If Hamas in any way blocks humanitarian assistance from reaching civilians, including by seizing the aid itself, we’ll be the first to condemn it. And we will work to prevent it from happening again,” Blinken said.
Blinken did not provide details on what the aid plan would look like.
President Biden to visit Israel
In addition, the top US official announced that Biden would visit Israel on Wednesday to demonstrate that the country’s closest partner “had the right to self-defence” following the Hamas weekend attack over a week ago.
“President Biden will receive a comprehensive brief on Israel’s war aims and strategy,” Blinken said.
“(The) president will hear from Israel how it will conduct its operations in a way that minimises civilian casualties and enables humanitarian assistance to flow to civilians in Gaza in a way that does not benefit Hamas.”
Blinken was in Egypt on Sunday, where he said the country’s Rafah border crossing into Gaza would soon reopen, but a deal to allow aid in, and for some foreign citizens to leave, has yet to materialise.
Speaking to reporters earlier after meeting Blinken, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said: “This will be a long war; the price will be high. But we are going to win for Israel and the Jewish people and for the values that both countries believe in.”
Washington has moved an aircraft carrier strike group to the eastern Mediterranean and is set to move another carrier to the region in the coming days, moves Blinken has said are meant as a deterrent, not a provocation.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the Bataan, another warship, was heading near the coast of Israel and would include a Marine expeditionary unit, with a total force of about 2,000 personnel.
They have not been given a specific mission but could play a key role in any evacuation.
Separately, the United States has told some troops, potentially 2,000, to be ready to deploy within 24 hours if notified — instead of the usual 96 hours — to the region and could include units that provide assistance such as medical aid if needed, the US official said.
Around half a million Israelis displaced inside Israel
Around 500,000 Israelis have been evacuated and displaced in the 10 days since Hamas unleashed the bloodiest attack in the country’s history, the Israeli military said Tuesday.
“There are about half a million internally displaced Israelis at the time,” Jonathan Conricus, spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), said in an online briefing.
He pointed out that all communities around the Gaza Strip had been evacuated, as had more than 20 communities along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, AFP reported.
The evacuations follow the brutal surprise attack by Hamas fighters, who broke through the heavily fortified border on October 7 and killed more than 1,400 Israelis, most of them civilians.
It was the worst attack in the country’s 75-year history. Israel’s relentless series of retaliatory air strikes in the Gaza Strip have flattened neighbourhoods, martyring over 2,700, most of them Palestinian civilians including a large number of children.
More than one million people have been displaced inside the densely populated Palestinian territory, as Israel prepares for a full-blown ground offensive against Hamas.
Israel’s army has also been evacuating residents living along its northern border with Lebanon, amid rising tensions with the Hezbollah.
An Israeli civilian and an army officer were killed Sunday in missile attacks from Lebanon, and the army carried out retaliatory strikes and attacked the group’s infrastructure.
The move affects thousands of people living in 28 communities.
Many had already left the area after repeated cross-border fire in recent days has claimed lives on both sides of the UN-patrolled border between Lebanon and Israel which remain technically at war.