In Riyadh, Blinken met with the kingdom’s de-facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and his Saudi counterpart, foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud. Saudi officials say the kingdom is still interested in normalising relations with Israel in a potentially landmark deal, but only if there is a credible plan to create a Palestinian state.
But any such grand bargain appears a long way off as the war still rages in Gaza, where 113 bodies were brought to hospitals in the last 24 hours alone, Hamas health officials said. The fatalities bring the Palestinian death toll from nearly four months of war to 27,478.
The Israeli military says it has launched targeted operations in northern Gaza over the last week to prevent Hamas from rebuilding its capabilities. PM Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue the war until Israel crushes Hamas’ military and governing abilities and wins the return of the 100-plus hostages still held by the militant group after the October 7 cross-border raid that ignited the war. Meeting with troops on Monday, Netanyahu said Israel had defeated 18 of Hamas’ 24 battalions, without providing evidence. “We are on the way to absolute victory, and I want to tell you that we are committed to it and we will not give it up.” “A complete victory will deal a fatal blow to the axis of evil that is Iran, Hezbollah, the Huthis and of course Hamas,” he said.
The US, Qatar and Egypt have drawn up a proposal for a ceasefire of several weeks and the phased release of the remainder of the hostages. But Hamas, which has yet to publicly respond to the proposal, has said it won’t release any more captives until Israel ends its offensive. The militants are expected to demand the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners in return – demands Netanyahu has publicly ruled out.
The war has ignited tensions across the region, with a flurry of strikes and counterstrikes raising the risk of a wider conflict. A US official said Blinken will also tell US allies in the region that the Biden govt’s recent strikes against Iran-backed militias in Iraq, Syria and Yemen should not be interpreted as an escalation of fighting in West Asia. The US strikes in Iraq and Syria in retaliation for the killing of three American troops at a Jordan base prompted Russia to call for an “urgent” meeting of the UN Security Council.