Biden, Saudis call for Israeli restraint as Gaza suffers another bloody day

Blinken held talks in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia on Monday to try to chart a way forward in the bloodiest chapter ever of the decades-long Israel-Palestinian conflict. It is his fourth mission to the region since the deadly Oct 7 attacks on Israel by Hamas militants triggered the massive Israeli assault.

Speaking to reporters before flying to Israel following talks with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Saudi oasis town of Al Ula, Blinken said he found support among Arab leaders for normalising relations with Israel.

“There’s a clear interest in the region in pursuing that but it will require that the conflict end in Gaza and it will also clearly require that there be a practical pathway to a Palestinian state,” said Blinken, who stopped in Jordan and Qatar on Sunday.

The Saudi crown prince, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, stressed the importance of stopping the hostilities in Gaza and forming a path for peace, Saudi state news agency SPA reported.

SPA said the crown prince – who prior to the war’s outbreak had been leading a rapprochement between his country and Israel – underscored the need to restore stability and to ensure the Palestinian people gain their legitimate rights.

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden, confronted by protesters shouting “ceasefire now” while he visited a church in Charleston, South Carolina, said he had been working “quietly” with the Israeli government to encourage it to reduce its attacks and “significantly get out of Gaza”.

Though long a fervent supporter of Israel, Biden has previously described Israel’s bombing campaign as “indiscriminate”.

Israel, which says it is in a fight for its very survival, accuses Hamas of operating among civilians. Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, denies this. Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told the Wall Street Journal his country was both determined to end Hamas rule of the enclave and deter other Iran-backed adversaries.

The Israeli offensive has so far killed 23,084 Palestinians, Gaza health officials say, while Israel says Hamas still holds more than 100 hostages of the 240 seized during its attack on Israeli towns on Oct 7 in which the militants killed about 1,200 people.

Blinken said he would tell Israeli officials in their meetings that they must do more to prevent civilian casualties in Gaza. He also said Israel must allow Palestinian civilians to return home after right-wing members of Israel’s ruling coalition called for them to move elsewhere.

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