Blinken leaves Monday for Mideast trip to shore up ceasefire

Photo: AP In this May 18, 2021 photo, Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a joint press conference following meetings with the Icelandic Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson, at the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland.

The United States' Secretary of State Antony Blinken departs Monday for a Middle East trip aimed at consolidating the ceasefire that brought 11 days of deadly bombardment between Israel and Hamas to a halt, AFP reports.

"Secretary Blinken will meet with Israeli leaders about our ironclad commitment to Israel's security," US President Joe Biden said in a statement. "He will continue our administration's efforts to rebuild ties to, and support for, the Palestinian people and leaders, after years of neglect."

Biden, who came under criticism from many within his own Democratic party for not pushing US ally Israel more publicly to call a ceasefire, has touted his administration's "quiet, relentless diplomacy" to bring about a halt in the fighting.

Blinken's trip, in addition to meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, will take him to Cairo and Amman for consultations with officials there.

In a tweet, Blinken said the trip will aim to support "efforts to solidify a ceasefire".

"The United States has engaged in intensive diplomacy to bring an end to the hostilities and reduce tensions," he added.

Israeli strikes on Gaza this month killed 248 Palestinians, including 66 children, and have wounded over 1,900 people, the Gaza health ministry says.

Rockets and other fire from Gaza claimed 12 lives in Israel, including one child and an Arab-Israeli teenager, an Israeli soldier, one Indian, and two Thai nationals, medics say. Some 357 people in Israel have been wounded.

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