Home International Senior US, French officials in Middle East seeking to ease Gaza war

Senior US, French officials in Middle East seeking to ease Gaza war

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French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said on Monday talks on a ceasefire in Gaza were progressing as he joined US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Saudi Arabia on a diplomatic push to ease the war between Israel and Hamas.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah at the GCC Secretariat, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 29, 2024. Picture: Reuters, Evelyn Hockstein

By Humeyra Pamuk and John Irish

RIYADH – French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said on Monday talks on a ceasefire in Gaza were progressing as he joined US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Saudi Arabia on a diplomatic push to ease the war between Israel and Hamas.

Sejourne was expected to hold talks in Riyadh with ministers of Arab and other Western countries as well as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“Things are moving forward but you always have to be careful in these discussions and negotiations. The situation in Gaza is catastrophic and we need a ceasefire,” Sejourne told Reuters on the sidelines of a World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting.

“We will discuss the hostages, humanitarian situation and the ceasefire. Things are progressing, but we must always remain prudent in these discussions and negotiations.”

Blinken arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday, the first stop in a broader trip to the Middle East.

In Riyadh, he is expected to meet senior Saudi leaders and also hold a wider meeting with counterparts from five Arab states – Qatar, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan – to discuss what governance of the Gaza Strip might look like after the Israel-Hamas war ends, according to a senior State Department official.

Blinken is also expected to bring together Arab and European countries and discuss how Europe can help reconstruction efforts in the Gaza Strip, which has been reduced to a wasteland in a six-month-long Israeli bombardment.

Hamas fighters 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, according to health authorities in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Jordanian Prime Minister Bisher al Khasawneh said all parties needed to find a path towards a two-state solution to the conflict or the Middle East risked another catastrophe.

“What we have to look at is an irreversible pathway towards realising a two-state solution ..so that we are not in this bind again in a couple of years and drag the region and perhaps the entire world into further tension and endanger global peace and security,” he said at the WEF meeting in Riyadh.

Israeli airstrikes on three houses in the southern Gaza city of Rafah killed at least 20 Palestinians and wounded many others, medics said on Monday, as Egyptian and Qatari mediators were expected to hold a new round of ceasefire talks with Hamas leaders in Cairo.

An assault on Rafah, which Israel says is the last Hamas stronghold in Gaza, has been anticipated for weeks but foreign governments and the United Nations have expressed concern that such action could result in a humanitarian disaster given the number of displaced people crammed into the area.

Conversations about Gaza’s rebuilding and governance have been going on for months with a clear mechanism yet to emerge.

The United States agrees with Israel’s objective that Hamas needs to be eradicated and cannot play a role in Gaza’s future, but Washington does not want Israel to re-occupy the enclave.

Instead, it has been looking at a structure that will include a reformed Palestinian Authority – which exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank – with support from Arab states.

Blinken will also discuss with Saudi authorities efforts for a normalisation accord between the kingdom and Israel, a deal that includes Washington giving Riyadh agreements on bilateral defence and security commitments as well as nuclear cooperation.

In return for normalisation, Arab states and Washington are pushing for Israel to agree to a pathway for Palestinian statehood, something Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin 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.

– REUTERS

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