Blinken arrives in Saudi Arabia to discuss Israel normalisation


US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday, the first stop in a broader trip to the Middle East to discuss issues including the governance of Gaza once the war with Israel ends.

The top US diplomat heads to Israel later this week, where he is expected to press Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take the concrete and tangible steps US President Joe Biden demanded this month to improve the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.

In Riyadh, Blinken is expected to meet with senior Saudi leaders and hold a wider meeting with counterparts from other Arab states to further the discussions on what governance of the Gaza Strip would look like after the war, according to a senior State Department official.

He will also discuss with Saudi authorities the efforts for a normalisation deal between the kingdom and Israel. In return for normalisation, Arab states and Washington push for Israel to agree to a pathway for Palestinian statehood, something Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected.

From Riyadh, Blinken will head to Jordan and Israel and the focus of the trip will shift to the efforts to improve the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.

In Amman, Blinken will meet with senior Jordanian officials and humanitarian groups to hear about the improvements and what more needs to be done and then take that feedback to the Israelis later this week.

"(Blinken) will discuss the recent increase in humanitarian assistance being delivered to Gaza and underscore the importance of ensuring that increase is sustained," the US State Department said in a statement on Sunday announcing the expansion of the trip.

He is also expected to bring together Arab countries with the European states and discuss how Europe can help the rebuilding effort of the enclave, which has been reduced to a wasteland in the six-month-long Israeli bombardment.

A group of European nations, including Norway, plan to recognise Palestinian statehood in conjunction with the presentation of an Arab state-backed peace plan to the United Nations.

Blinkin's trip comes as Egypt was expected to host leaders of Hamas to discuss prospects for a ceasefire agreement with Israel.

Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. Israel retaliated by imposing a total siege on Gaza, then launching an air and ground assault that has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, say health authorities in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

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