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Times Of Israel
Times Of Israel
6 Jan 2024

NextImg:At start of latest whirlwind Mideast tour, Blinken urges against ‘spread of conflict’

Visiting Turkey and Greece on Saturday ahead of visits to Israel and Arab nations, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed that regional countries must push to prevent “an endless cycle of violence,” as he continues the ongoing American shuttle diplomacy in the Mideast that has so far seen little success.

It is in the interests of virtually all nations in the Middle East to contain the fighting, Blinken told reporters on his trip.

“We want to make sure that countries who feel that way are also using their ties, using their influence, using their relationships with some of the actors that might be involved to keep a lid on things, to make sure that we’re not seeing the spread of conflict,” he said before flying to Jordan.

Blinken visited both Crete and Istanbul at the start of his whirlwind weeklong trip that will also include visits to Jordan, Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt.

Speaking a day after Hezbollah fired dozens of rockets at Israel, Blinken said it was very important that Israel had security in the north of the country.

“From the perspective of Israel, it’s clearly not interested, does not want escalation… but they also have to be fully prepared to defend themselves,” he said.

Smoke billows over northern Israel, amid ongoing cross-border clashes, as seen from the southern Lebanese village of Dhayra along the Israeli border. Below are buildings in the Lebanese town of Tair Harfa. January 5, 2023 (AFP)

Blinken said he believes most people in the region are seeking a future of “peace, of security, of de-escalation of conflicts.” If efforts to settle the crisis fail, he said, the outcome would be “an endless cycle of violence… and lives of insecurity and conflict for people in the region, which is what virtually no one wants.”

Blinken also said he would be looking at what could be done to maximize the protection of civilians in Gaza and increase deliveries of humanitarian assistance.

“Far too many Palestinians have been killed, especially children,” he said.

The US secretary of state held a long meeting on Saturday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been harshly and vocally critical of Israel amid the ongoing war. The State Department said following the meeting that Blinken “emphasized the need to prevent the conflict from spreading,” as well as pointed to the need to “work toward broader, lasting regional peace that ensures Israel’s security and advances the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

A Turkish diplomatic source said Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan pressed Blinken during a separate meeting for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza that could ensure the smooth delivery of aid.

Over the past few months, Erdogan has compared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler, and accused the United States of sponsoring the “genocide” of Palestinians. He has also rebuffed US pressure to cut off the suspected flow of funding to Hamas through Turkey, and defended the group as legitimately elected “liberators” fighting for their land.

This handout photograph taken and released by Turkish Presidency Press Office on January 6, 2024, shows Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) shaking hands with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) prior to their meeting at the Vahdettin private residence of the presidency in Istanbul. (Handout / TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / AFP)

Before departing from Amman, the top US diplomat said that “from our conversations today, it’s clear that Turkey is prepared to play a positive, productive role in the work that needs to happen the day after the conflict ends and as well more broadly in trying to find a path to sustainable peace and security.”

“I think they’re also prepared… to use the ties, the influence they have, the relationships they have with some of the critical players and some of the critical countries in the region to do everything possible to deescalate and to prevent the conflict from spreading,” he added of Ankara. “They clearly have a shared interest with us in doing just that and I’m confident from these conversations that they’re going to make every possible effort,” Blinken said.

Speaking to reporters following his meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Crete, Blinken said “one of the real concerns is the border between Israel and Lebanon, and we want to do everything possible to make sure we see no escalation.”

Blinken also said that he spoke at length with Mitsotakis about attacks by Houthi rebels disrupting shipping lanes and impacting international commerce, driving the price of food and gas up.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, meets with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, left, at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Crete, Greece, Jan. 6, 2024. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool Photo via AP)

His fourth visit to the Middle East in just three months comes amid worrying developments outside of Gaza, including in Lebanon, northern Israel, the Red Sea and Iraq, that have put intense strains on what had been a modestly successful US push to prevent a regional conflagration in the weeks after the war began, and growing international criticism of Israel’s military operation.

Blinken paid his first wartime visit to Israel just a few days after Hamas’s murderous October 7 onslaught, in which thousands of terrorists invaded southern Israel by land, sea, and air, and killed approximately 1,200 people and took another around 240 hostage in Gaza — where more than 100 are still being held captive.

In response, the IDF launched a war against Hamas vowing to destroy the terror group. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says at least 22,700 people have been killed in the Strip so far, a figure which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants and includes Palestinians killed by errant rocket fire from Gaza.

Israel says it has killed 8,500 terrorists since launching the war.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.