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JEDDAH: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, after a ‘productive’ discussion with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman over the Israel-Hamas conflict, is set to extend his Middle East shuttle diplomacy by a day, returning to Israel on Monday.
This move comes as Israel prepares for a potential ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, and the United States works to prevent the conflict from further escalation.
Israel has vowed to retaliate against the Palestinian group Hamas for an attack on Israeli towns eight days ago, which resulted in the shooting of civilians and the taking of hostages, marking one of the worst attacks on civilians in the country’s history.
Blinken, who arrived in Israel on Thursday and has since visited six Arab countries, is currently in Egypt and is expected to meet with President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.
The US has expressed growing concern about the conflict spreading across the region and has warned Iran against involvement. Blinken has sought cooperation from Arab allies and has engaged with China, a country with influence over Tehran, in an effort to contain the conflict.
However, on Saturday, Iran issued a warning of “far-reaching consequences” if Israel’s bombardment was not halted.
Earlier, Blinken held a “very productive” meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during which he discussed the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas.
The top US diplomat met the Saudi royal in Riyadh in a critical diplomatic engagement as Israel prepared to launch a ground assault in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and Washington worked to contain the conflict.
“Very productive,” Blinken replied to a question from a reporter as he returned to the hotel where the US delegation was staying.
A US official said the meeting lasted for just under an hour and took place at the Crown Prince’s private farm residence.
“The Secretary highlighted the United States’ unwavering focus on halting terrorist attacks by Hamas, securing the release of all hostages, and preventing the conflict from spreading,” the State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement.
“The two affirmed their shared commitment to protecting civilians and to advancing stability across the Middle East and beyond,” Miller added.
Sunday’s meeting between the two officials comes as the US is on the brink of a further escalation with Gaza, a small coastal enclave home to 2.3 million Palestinians, bracing for Israel’s ground offensive.
Blinken embarked on his most extensive trip to date to the Middle East, working with Arab allies to prevent the war from spiralling into a wider conflict and help secure the release of hostages kidnapped by Hamas militants.
Beginning the trip by landing in Israel on Thursday, Blinken voiced robust US support for Washington’s closest Middle East ally in its war against Hamas.
Since then, he has visited Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. He made a brief visit to the United Arab Emirates and returned to Riyadh to meet the Crown Prince late on Saturday, although the meeting only materialised on Sunday morning.
For the past few months, before the violence in the Gaza Strip region started, the Saudi crown prince had spoken of progress in US-led diplomacy to normalise relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Saudi Arabia has put the process on hold after the violence, and Blinken has said that disrupting Saudi-Israel normalisation efforts may have partly motivated the Hamas attack.
US officials say Cairo worked on an arrangement to let US citizens leave the Gaza Strip but that Hamas impeded their movement on Saturday to the sole border crossing at Rafah.
Meanwhile, Gaza authorities said more than 2,300 people had been killed, a quarter of them children, and nearly 10,000 wounded.
Rescue workers searched desperately for survivors of nighttime air raids. One million people had reportedly left their homes.
Blinken on Saturday met Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan in Riyadh. Before their meeting, Blinken said protecting civilians on both sides of the conflict was vital.
“And we’re working together to do exactly that, in particular working on establishing safe areas in Gaza, working on establishing corridors so that humanitarian assistance can reach people who need it.”
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