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Blinken Headed to Mideast Amid Violence01/27 06:15

   Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Egypt, Israel and the West 
Bank this weekend, the State Department announced Thursday, as the U.S. 
expressed alarm about escalating violence after Israel's single deadliest 
operation in the West Bank in two decades.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Egypt, 
Israel and the West Bank this weekend, the State Department announced Thursday, 
as the U.S. expressed alarm about escalating violence after Israel's single 
deadliest operation in the West Bank in two decades.

   Blinken's visit to Israel has been planned for weeks, but the Israeli raid 
on a West Bank refugee camp earlier Thursday -- which the Palestinians say 
killed nine people, including a 61-year-old woman -- will likely dominate his 
talks in Jerusalem and Ramallah. The Israeli military also fatally shot a 
22-year-old Palestinian later in the day.

   The trip, the second by a senior U.S. national security official this month, 
had already been expected to be fraught with tension over disagreements between 
President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, particularly 
on the Palestinian conflict. Thursday's raid and the subsequent outcry are 
expected to make the visit even more difficult.

   The top U.S. diplomat for the Mideast said the administration was urging 
both sides to de-escalate tensions in the wake of the raid and decried a 
Palestinian announcement that they would cut off all security cooperation with 
Israel as a result.

   Barbara Leaf, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, 
said U.S. officials had been in touch with top Israeli and Palestinian 
officials since the incident happened to stress the importance of calming the 
situation. She said the civilian casualties reported in Jenin were "quite 
regrettable."

   But, she also said the Palestinian announcement that it would suspend all 
security cooperation with Israel in the aftermath was a mistake, as was a 
Palestinian vow to bring the matter to the United Nations and the International 
Criminal Court.

   "Obviously, we don't think this is the right step to take at this moment," 
Leaf told reporters on a conference call. "We want to see them move back in the 
other direction. We don't think it makes sense" to go to an international forum 
now, she said. "They need to engage with each other."

   Blinken will hold talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in 
Cairo on Sunday before going to Jerusalem and Ramallah on Monday and Tuesday to 
see Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, the State Department said.

   He will be the second top Biden official to visit Israel this year, 
following national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who made the trip just last 
week as U.S. concerns were growing over the violence as well as the direction 
of Netanyahu's new right-wing government.

   "With both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the secretary will underscore 
the urgent need for the parties to take steps to deescalate tensions in order 
to put an end to the cycle of violence that has claimed too many innocent 
lives," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

   In another statement later Thursday, Price again emphasized the "urgent 
need" for Israelis and Palestinians to "prevent further loss of civilian life, 
and work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank."

   The trip was announced just hours after the Israeli raid on suspected 
terrorists at the refugee camp in the West Bank city of Jenin.

   After the raid, Israel's defense minister directed forces in the occupied 
West Bank and on Israel's border with the Gaza Strip to go on heightened alert 
as Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza, threatened revenge.

   Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority said it had halted security cooperation 
with Israel and would file complaints about the raid with the U.N. Security 
Council, International Criminal Court and other international bodies.

   Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have soared since Israel launched 
the nightly raids in the West Bank last spring, following a spate of 
Palestinian attacks. The conflict has only intensified this month, as 
Netanyahu's government came to office and pledged to take a hard line against 
the Palestinians.

   In Jerusalem and Ramallah, Blinken will also underscore the importance the 
U.S. attaches to maintaining the status quo at the flashpoint Jerusalem holy 
site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, where 
clashes have frequently erupted, Price said.

   The Biden administration has serious concerns over the composition of 
Netanyahu's government that includes several far-right Israeli politicians who 
are opposed to some of the administration's fundamental Mideast policies, 
including a two-state resolution to the long-running Israeli-Palestinian 
conflict.

   Like Sullivan, Blinken does not plan to meet with the most controversial of 
those Cabinet members, according to U.S. officials.

   In Egypt, Blinken will raise human rights issues along with the unstable 
security situations in Libya and Sudan, the State Department said.

 
 
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