US Secretary of State Antony Blankenship He went ahead with a diplomatic tour of the Middle East on Tuesday, meeting with Egyptian leaders as part of efforts to secure a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war in exchange for the release of hostages.

Blankenship’s visit also comes amid growing concerns in Egypt about Israel’s escalation of fighting in Gaza into areas along the Egyptian border that are teeming with displaced Palestinians.

Israel’s defense minister has said Israel’s offensive will eventually reach Rafah, a town on the border with Egypt, where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have sought refuge and are now living in worse conditions. .

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UN humanitarian monitors said on Tuesday that Israeli evacuation orders now cover two-thirds of Gaza, driving thousands more to the border areas every day.

Egypt has warned that Israel’s deployment on the border would threaten the peace treaty signed between the two countries four decades ago. Egypt fears that an extension of the fighting in the Rafah area could push terrified Palestinian civilians across the border, something Egypt has said it is determined to prevent.

Blankenship, who was meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo on Tuesday, has repeatedly said Palestinians should not be forced out of Gaza.

A destroyed house in Rafah, Gaza City

Palestinians stand around a house destroyed by an Israeli strike in Rafah, Gaza Strip on February 5, 2024. US Secretary of State Anthony Blanken continues his diplomatic tour of the Middle East to seek a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. War for the release of hostages. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

Blinken is pushing for growth.

During his latest trip, Blanken is seeking progress on a cease-fire agreement, a possible normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and preventing an escalation of the regional conflict.

On all three fronts, Blinken faces big challenges.. Hamas and Israel have been publicly at odds over key elements of a potential ceasefire. Israel has rejected US demands to pursue a Palestinian state path, and Iran’s military allies in the region have shown no signs of backing down from US attacks.

Egypt – along with Qatar, where Blanken will be later on Tuesday – is trying to broker a deal between Israel and Hamas that would result in the release of more hostages in exchange for a weeks-long pause in Israeli military operations. The intelligence chiefs of the United States, Egypt, Qatar and Israel drafted such a deal late last month and presented it to Hamas, which has yet to respond formally.

U.S. officials said Blankenship was hoping to get updates from both Cairo and Doha on Hamas’ response to the proposal. Blanken will then travel to Israel on Wednesday to brief Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet on what he heard from Arab leaders.

As with his previous four visits to the Middle East since the Gaza war began, Blankenship’s other main goal is to prevent the conflict from escalating, a task that has intensified and intensified attacks by Iran-backed militias in the region. Made increasingly difficult by the tough US military. Reactions in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and the Red Sea have intensified since last week.

Blankenship met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shortly after arriving in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on Monday evening. Saudi officials have said the kingdom is interested in normalizing ties with Israel under a possible landmark deal, but only if there is a credible plan to establish a Palestinian state.

The State Department said in a statement that Blanken “stressed the importance of meeting humanitarian needs in Gaza and preventing further escalation of the conflict,” and that he and the crown prince “understood the importance of building a more integrated and prosperous region.” ” discussed.

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Fighting across Gaza

Any such major deal seems far off because the war in Gaza is still ongoing.

According to the Ministry of Health in the Hamas-controlled area, the number of Palestinians killed in the nearly four-month-long war has reached 27,585. The bodies of 107 people were brought to hospitals yesterday. The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and fighters in its count, but says most of the dead are women and children.

The war has leveled vast swaths of the tiny enclave and driven a quarter of the residents to starvation.

Israel has vowed to continue the war until it crushes Hamas’ military and governance capabilities and returns more than 100 hostages held by the militant group.

Hamas and other militants killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, the October 7 attack that sparked the war and kidnapped around 250. More than 100 prisoners, mostly women and children, were released in exchange for a week-long ceasefire in November. 240 Palestinians are imprisoned by Israel.

The Israeli military said on Tuesday it was battling militants in other areas, including the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis, where it said troops killed dozens of militants yesterday.

An Israeli airstrike in the city hit an apartment building, killing two parents and four of their five children, according to the children’s grandfather.

Mahmoud al-Khatib said his 41-year-old son Tariq was sleeping with his family when an Israeli warplane bombed his apartment at night. The Israeli military rarely comments on individual attacks but blames Hamas for the civilian deaths, saying the militants are entrenched in urban areas.

The humanitarian crisis continues.

UN humanitarian monitors said on Tuesday that Israel has now issued evacuation orders in the Gaza Strip. Covers two-thirds of the area., or 246 square kilometers (95 sq mi). The affected area was home to 1.78 million Palestinians, or 77 percent of Gaza’s pre-war population.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, states in its daily report that newly displaced people have only 1.5-2 liters (50-67 ounces) of water per day for drinking, cooking and washing. ) is water. It also reported a significant increase in chronic diarrhea in children.

Parents of babies face a particularly difficult challenge as diapers, baby formula and milk are expensive or scarce.

Zainab al-Zain, who is sheltering in the central town of Deir al-Balah, said she had to feed her 2.5-month-old daughter solid food, such as biscuits and ground rice, well past the normal 6-month mark. Milk and formula were not available.

“Of course, it’s known as an unhealthy food, and we know it causes intestinal discomfort, bloating and pain,” Alzin said. “As you can see, for 24 hours like that, she just keeps crying and crying.”

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