Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday asserted he made progress on the goals he set for a whirlwind Middle East trip as he departed with few tangible results to show for a flurry of meetings with leaders about the Israel-Hamas war.
The situation on the ground had shifted in the weeks since Blinken’s last trip to region, where he traveled just days after the deadly October 7 Hamas attack on Israel. But the stakes for this trip were just as high as Israel is poised to launch a new phase of its offensive in Gaza, a senior administration official said Friday. Global condemnation of that offensive has continued to grow – sparking anti-American sentiment and threatening to create rifts among the US and its partners. Meanwhile, the civilian death toll in the war-torn Gaza Strip is mounting, and concerns about regional conflagration loom large.
Throughout his meetings in Israel, Jordan, the West Bank, Iraq and Turkey, Blinken’s priorities were focused on the need to protect civilians and increase humanitarian assistance getting into Gaza, pressing for the release of the hostages held by Hamas and preventing the conflict from expanding to the wider region. He also repeatedly advocated for the idea of a “humanitarian pause” rather than a ceasefire.
As he departed Ankara for Tokyo on Monday, the top US diplomat stressed that “all of this is a work in progress.”
“I think in each of these areas, we’ve made progress, and I come back to the proposition that what I heard in every single place, in a variety of ways, on all these different issues is the indispensability of American leadership, of American diplomacy, of America engagement,” Blinken said in response to a question from CNN.
He teased one particular point of progress on humanitarian assistance, saying, “I think you’ll see in the days ahead that that assistance can expand in significant ways so that more gets into people who need it and gets to the people who need it, as well as making sure that people can continue to come out of Gaza.”
Still, many of Blinken’s messages, particularly in Israel, seem to have been disregarded. Despite his forceful public missive that “civilians should not suffer the consequences for (Hamas’) inhumanity and its brutality,” Israeli forces continued to strike civilian sites in the wake of the top US diplomat’s visit. The forces claimed that the sites were being used by Hamas.
There have been no further releases of any hostages held by Hamas since Israel escalated its offensive in Gaza.
Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Majed Al-Ansari said that the negotiations to free the hostages are still ongoing, and Qatar – which has served as a key broker in the discussions with Hamas – is committed to the mediation. Al-Ansari told CNN that any hostage release has to be connected to a period of calm.
“When it comes to humanitarian pauses, we’re engaged with the Israelis on the particular practicalities of that. One critical aspect, though, is seeing progress on hostages. That’s something we’re intensely focused on. But we also believe that a pause could help advance that proposition as well,” Blinken said Monday.
But just hours after meeting with Blinken on Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly rejected any stop to the fighting – be it a pause or a ceasefire – until Hamas releases the hostages.