WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading to the Middle East to press the Israelis, Palestinians and regional players to build on last week’s Gaza cease-fire by laying the groundwork for a resumption in long-stalled peace talks.
President Joe Biden says Blinken departs Monday for a short visit to Israel, the West Bank, Jordan and Egypt. It will be the Biden administration’s highest-level in-person meetings on the crisis that erupted this month.
The Biden administration was roundly criticized for its perceived hands-off initial response to the deadly violence, including from Democratic allies in Congress who demanded it take a tougher line on Israel and its response to rocket attacks from Palestinian militant groups in Gaza.
Throughout the conflict, the Biden administration had maintained that Israel "had a right to defend itself" while saying it was working backchannel avenues to advocate for a de-escalation of violence in the region.
Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip on Thursday after 11 days of fighting in the region. The ceasefire was agreed to a day after Biden, in a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, urged for a de-escalation of violence and asked Israelis to find a path toward a ceasefire.
According to CNN, more than 220 Palestinians, including more than 60 children, had been killed amid the fighting. CNN added that during that time span, 12 Israelis had been killed, including two children.
While Hamas — a Palestinian fundamentalist military operation that the state department has designated as a terrorist organization — had fired thousands of rockets into Israel during the conflict, Israeli defense systems have shot down most of those missiles.