U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets Saturday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, during Blinken’s latest trip to the Middle East and Europe aimed at ramping up diplomatic efforts over the Israel-Hamas war and preventing an expansion of the conflict.
His weeklong visit, which will also take him to Israel, the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Greece, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, is his fourth trip to the Middle East since the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas on October 7.
The tour will largely focus on preventing an expansion of the conflict in Gaza to the West Bank, Lebanon and Red Sea shipping lanes.
The Middle East has been a tinderbox since Iran-backed Hamas launched a terrorist attack on Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people while taking about 240 people hostage, Israel said. Some of the hostages have been released, with about 130 still in Gaza.
Israel’s response has killed more than 22,600 Palestinians, a large percentage of them women and children, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. Neither side differentiates between combatants and civilians.
Blinken also will reaffirm calls for increasing humanitarian aid in Gaza, the State Department said.
Fears of a widening conflict grew this week after a presumed Israeli strike on the Lebanese capital, Beirut, that killed a senior Hamas official.
On Friday, the leader of the Lebanese militia Hezbollah said his group must retaliate over the strike.
“We cannot keep silent about a violation of this seriousness,” said Hassan Nasrallah, according to The Associated Press. He said the cost of staying quiet is “far greater” than the risks of retaliating.
Hamas and security officials in the region attributed the strike that killed Saleh al-Arouri to an Israeli drone, although Israel has not directly acknowledged responsibility.
In the southern Gaza areas of Khan Younis and Rafah, as well as parts of central Gaza, more than 100 targets were struck, including military positions, rocket launch sites and weapons storage facilities, Agence France-Presse quoted the Israeli military as saying.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have evacuated to southern Gaza, where most have been reduced to living in squalor without access to food, clean drinking water or working toilets.
Israel’s defense minister announced Thursday plans for a new stage in its ongoing war in Gaza, including a more targeted strategy in the territory’s north. There has been no official acceptance by the Israeli government of the defense minister’s plan.
The announcement comes amid rising international pressure, including from the United States, to transition to less intense combat.
Source: Voa News