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Blinken tells GCC foreign ministers Israel must do more to boost Gaza aid

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Speaking to Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers in Riyadh, Blinken said best way to ease the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza would be to conclude an elusive ceasefire agreement that would release hostages held by Hamas. But, in the meantime, he said it was critical to improve conditions now.

“The most effective way to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, to alleviate the suffering of children, women and men, and to create space for a more just and durable solution is to get a ceasefire and the hostages out,” he said.

“But we’re also not waiting on a ceasefire to take the necessary steps to meet the needs of civilians in Gaza,” Blinken said. He said that because President Joe Biden has been insisting that Israel do more, including in his phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, there had been improvements, although not nearly enough.

“We have seen measurable progress in the last few weeks, including the opening of new crossings and increased volume of aid delivery to Gaza and within Gaza, and the building of the US maritime corridor, which will open in the coming weeks. But it is not enough. We still need to get more aid in and around Gaza,” he said.

“We need to improve deconfliction with humanitarian assistance workers. And we have to find greater efficiency and greater safety and deconfliction is at the heart of that. And, finally we have to make sure that we’re focusing not just on inputs, but on impact.”

Scores of relief workers have been killed since the conflict began, and a deadly Israeli attack on a World Central Kitchen aid convoy in Gaza this month only highlighted the dangers and difficulties of protecting them. Israel has said the strike was a mistake and has disciplined officials invol ved. World Central Kitchen says it would resume operations in Gaza on Monday after a four-week suspension.

The war has ground on since Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 attacks on Israel with little end in sight: more than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed, hundreds of thousands more are displaced and a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is worsening.

The conflict has fueled mass protests around the world that have spread to American college campuses. US support for Israel, particularly arms transfers, has come under particular criticism, something the administration is keenly aware poses potential problems for Biden in an election year.

Blinken’s trip comes amid renewed concerns about the conflict spreading in the Middle East and with once-promising prospects for Israeli-Saudi rapprochement effectively on hold as Israel refuses to consider one of the Saudis’ main conditions for normalized relations: the creation of a Palestinian state.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has been warning Israel against a major military operation on the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians have fled to escape fighting further north. Israel has not yet launched such an offensive, but Netanyahu has repeatedly said that one will take place, asserting that it is the only way to wipe out Hamas.

Both topics were discussed during the Biden-Netanyahu phone call on Sunday, according to the White House and US officials.

During his trip, Blinken said he would also underscore the absolute importance of not allowing the Israel-Hamas conflict to engulf the region. The danger of conflagration was underscored this month when a suspected Israeli attack on an Iranian consular building in Syria prompted an unprecedented direct missile and drone response by Iran against Israel. An apparent retaliatory Israeli strike on Iran followed.

Although the tit-for-tat cycle appears to have ended for now, deep concerns remain that Iran or its proxies in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria or Yemen could act in such a way as to provoke a greater response from Israel or that Israel might take action that Iran feels it must retaliate for.

Blinken called for tighter defence integration among Arab Gulf states in response to Iran.

He said the Iran attack “highlights the acute and growing threat from Iran but also the imperative that we work together on integrated defence,” Blinken said adding that the US would hold talks in the coming weeks with the six-nation bloc on integrating air and missile defence and boosting maritime security.

Read more:

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At least 13 Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes on Rafah: Medical officials

Hamas says no ‘major issues’ after reviewing Israel truce, hostage deal proposal