By Simon Lewis and Suleiman Al-Khalidi
AMMAN, Jan 7 (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was set to push Israel’s Arab neighbors on Sunday to play a future role in running Gaza, even as he aims to quell tensions beyond Israel’s offensive against Palestinian Hamas militants in the strip.
Blinken arrived in Jordan late on Saturday and met King Abdullah on Sunday before he was set to visit Qatar and end the day in the United Arab Emirates.
Blinken would use the visits to press hesitant Muslim nations to prepare to play a role in the reconstruction, governance and security of Gaza if and when Israel achieves its goal of eliminating Hamas, a senior State Department official traveling with the Biden administration’s top diplomat said.
The U.S. delegation would gather Arab states’ input on the sensitive issue of the future of Gaza before taking those positions to Israel in the coming days, the official said, acknowledging that there would be a significant gap between the different parties’ vision for the strip.
Israeli’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday proposed that a multinational task force led by the United States in partnership with the European Union and regional partners could take responsibility for rehabilitating the territory, with Israel maintaining its operational freedom of action in the strip.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, who met Blinken earlier, would only discuss a future scenario that would bring the West Bank and Gaza together as the basis of a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians, the foreign ministry said in a statement ahead of the talks on Sunday.
Arab leaders including Jordan’s King Abdullah have called for a lasting ceasefire in the conflict, which began when Hamas attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 240 hostage.
Israel’s aerial and ground assault in response, aimed at wiping out Hamas, had killed 22,722 Palestinians by Saturday, according to Palestinian health officials, and left much of the tiny Gaza enclave in rubble.
Blinken would in Doha also discuss efforts to free the more than 100 hostages still believed to be held by Hamas after an earlier agreement mediated by Qatar broke down.
Blinken’s visit – his fourth to the region during the three-month conflict – comes amid heightened tensions after a drone strike in Beirut killed a senior Hamas leader, Israel exchanged fire with Iran-backed militia Hezbollah across its northern border with Lebanon, and Washington tries to rally allies to act to deter attacks on Red Sea shipping launched by the Houthi militants who control most of Yemen.
On Saturday, Blinken said Middle Eastern nations need to use their influence over regional actors to ensure the Gaza conflict is contained and prevent “an endless cycle of violence,”