US' Blinken to travel to Middle East 'in the coming days'
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to the Middle East "in the coming days," the State Department said on Thursday after Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire. This halted 11 days of Israeli bombardment in Gaza and Hamas rocket fire against Israel.
Blinken spoke with his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi, who "welcomed Secretary Blinken's planned travel to the region," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
The top US diplomat "will meet with Israeli, Palestinian and regional counterparts in the coming days to discuss recovery efforts and working together to build better futures for Israelis and Palestinians," Price said.
The announcement came after Blinken spoke twice Thursday with Ashkenazi ahead of implementation of the ceasefire, which was brokered by Egypt and followed mounting international pressure to stem the bloodshed.
"Both leaders expressed their appreciation for Egypt's mediation efforts, and the secretary noted that he would continue to remain in close touch with his Egyptian counterpart and other regional stakeholders," Price said.
Blinken was headed home on Thursday following an Arctic tour overshadowed by the escalation in Palestine-Israel.
Working from hotel rooms and the airplane in the scramble for a ceasefire, he spoke to leaders on both sides, as well as from Arab nations with influence over Hamas.
The secretary "welcomed the [Israeli] foreign minister's confirmation that the parties had agreed to a ceasefire," Price said.
Earlier in the day Blinken announced that he was prepared to go to the Middle East "at any time."
US President Joe Biden welcomed the ceasefire as a "genuine opportunity" for peace in a speech from the White House.
"I believe we have a genuine opportunity to make progress and I'm committed to working toward it," Biden said.
I will be traveling to the region in the coming days and look forward to meeting the Foreign Minister and other Israeli, Palestinian, and regional leaders.— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) May 21, 2021
Israeli strikes on Gaza have killed 232 Palestinians, including 65 children, and have wounded another 1,900, according to the Gaza-based Palestinian Health Ministry.
The Israeli army said Hamas and other armed Islamist groups in Gaza have fired more than 4,300 rockets towards Israel, claiming 12 lives, including two children.
The truce also included Gaza's second-most powerful armed group, Islamic Jihad.