US secretary of state Antony Blinken begins trip to Middle East

Focus of talks with leaders of Israel and Palestine will be ‘de-escalation’, say officials

An alarming spike in Israeli-Palestinian violence and sharp responses by both sides are testing the Biden administration as US secretary of state Antony Blinken visits Israel and the West Bank this week.

What had already been expected to be a trip fraught with tension over differences between the administration and Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s new far-right government has grown significantly more complicated over the past four days with a spate of deadly incidents.

Mr Blinken’s high-wire diplomatic act begins on Monday after he completes a brief visit to Egypt that has been almost entirely overshadowed by the deteriorating security situation in Israel and the West Bank.

US officials say the main theme of Mr Blinken’s conversations with Mr Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will be “de-escalation”.


Yet Mr Blinken will arrive in Israel just a day after Mr Netanyahu’s security cabinet announced a series of punitive measures against Palestinians in response to a weekend of deadly shootings in which Palestinian attackers killed seven Israelis and wounded five others in Jerusalem.

Those shootings followed a deadly Israeli raid in the West Bank on Thursday that killed 10 Palestinians, most of them militants.

The violence has made January one of the bloodiest months in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem in several years.

While Mr Blinken’s trip has been planned for several weeks and will follow visits by president Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan and CIA director Willian Burns, it will be the highest-level US engagement with Mr Netanyahu since he retook power last month and the first since the surge in violence.

Already contending with the new Israeli government’s far-right policies and its opposition to a two-state resolution to the long-running conflict, US officials have yet to weigh in on the retaliatory steps that include sealing and demolishing the homes of Palestinian attackers, cancelling social security benefits for their families and handing out more weapons to Israeli civilians. – AP