U.S. says primary focus on lasting Gaza ceasefire, aid; too early for peace talks

·2-min read
Ceasefire between Israel and Hamas

By Humeyra Pamuk and Arshad Mohammed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will focus primarily on ensuring that a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas holds during his visit to the region later on Monday, and work to get assistance delivered to the people of Gaza, a senior State Department official said.

Washington has "every hope and expectation" that the ceasefire, brokered by Egypt and now in its fourth day after 11 days of hostilities, will hold, the U.S. official suggested in a call with reporters but said it was too early for wider peace talks.

Blinken will travel to Jerusalem, Ramallah, Cairo and Amman through Thursday and meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and Jordan's King Abdullah and other top officials.

U.S. President Joe Biden, in announcing the visit, said he had asked the top U.S. diplomat to make the trip following diplomatic efforts that sought to pause the worst outbreak in fighting between Israel and Hamas in years.

"Our primary focus is on maintaining the ceasefire, getting the assistance to the people who needed," the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said, but repeatedly indicated that Washington believed it was premature to make an effort to kick start any longer-term peace talks.

"The United States remains committed to the two-state solution...We are not wavering from that in any way. It's probably premature at this time to invite the parties to Washington or anywhere else," the official said.

Analysts say there is little chance of reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and a key reason is the deep divisions within both societies. On the Palestinian side these are between Hamas, which holds sway in Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank and within Israel, which has held four elections in the past two years without producing a clear winner.

The divisions on the Palestinian side even complicate efforts to get aid delivered to the people of Gaza, the enclave blockaded by Israel since 2007 and ruled by militant group Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by the United States. The U.S. official acknowledged the difficulty.

"It presents significant challenges....We hope, eventually – to a reintegration to some extent of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza," he said. Palestinian officials put reconstruction costs at tens of millions of dollars in Gaza, where medical officials said 248 people were killed during the fighting.

Beyond saying that he expected the United Nations to take the lead role on channeling assistance to Gaza, the senior U.S. official did not address in detail who would monitor the use of the aid on the ground to prevent civilian items such as pipes from being turned into rockets by Hamas or Islamic Jihad.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell)