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Blinken Sends Envoy to Middle East, Urges Israel to Spare Civilians

Blinken Sends Envoy to Middle East, Urges Israel to Spare Civilians

Wednesday, 12 May, 2021 - 17:30
Palestinians evacuate after their tower building was hit by Israeli air strikes, amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, in Gaza City May 12, 2021. (Reuters)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that a US envoy would travel to the Middle East to seek to calm tensions as he implored Israel to avoid civilian deaths.


Hady Amr, the deputy assistant secretary of state in charge of Israeli and Palestinian affairs, was leaving Wednesday and will meet both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, US officials said.


"He will urge on my behalf and on behalf of President Biden a de-escalation of violence," Blinken told reporters.


In the latest high-level interaction, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called his Israeli counterpart, Benny Gantz, and backed Israel's "legitimate right to defend itself and its people" while also urging steps to restore calm, the Pentagon said.


A senior US official separately said to expect further high-level contacts, including with Jordan and Egypt, although Washington does not speak to Hamas, which it considers a terrorist group.


Blinken described scenes of dead Palestinian civilians, including children, as "harrowing" but defended Israel's assault on Gaza in response to rocket fire by Hamas militants.


"I think Israel has an extra burden in trying to do everything they possibly can to avoid civilian casualties, even as it is rightfully responding in defense of its people," Blinken said.


But Blinken said there was a "very clear and absolute distinction between a terrorist organization, Hamas, that is indiscriminately raining down rockets -- in fact, targeting civilians -- and Israel's response defending itself."


President Joe Biden's administration earlier appealed to ally Israel to reroute a flashpoint parade in Jerusalem and prevent evictions of Palestinians in the holy city, the immediate trigger for the new round of violence.


Taking more nuance after the militantly pro-Israel administration of Donald Trump, Blinken renewed US support for the eventual creation of an independent Palestinian state.


"This violence takes us further away from that goal," Blinken said.


"We believe Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live with safety and security and will continue to engage with Israelis, Palestinians and other regional partners to urge de-escalation and to bring calm."


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