Blinken pushes for ‘enduring’ Gaza peace deal in Riyadh visit

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Washington’s top diplomat, Antony Blinken, held talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh on Monday, part of the US’s push for an “enduring” peace deal in the Middle East even as it vowed to keep bombing Iranian assets in the region.

Blinken’s trip to Saudi Arabia will be followed by stops in Egypt, Qatar, Israel and the West Bank, as the US secretary of state tries to advance talks for an end to the four-month-long Israel-Hamas war and secure the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza.

The US considers normalisation of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel as an important step towards a permanent end to the crisis in Gaza. US-led negotiations for a deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel took place earlier this year, but faltered after Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel.

“The Secretary and Crown Prince continued discussions on regional co-ordination to achieve an enduring end to the crisis in Gaza that provides lasting peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” state department spokesman Matt Miller said.

“They discussed the importance of building a more integrated and prosperous region and reaffirmed the strategic partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia.”

Blinken is also hoping to make progress with a proposal to secure a ceasefire in Gaza and release of hostages held by Hamas in the enclave. Hamas has said it was still studying the proposal.

The initiative, a product of meetings among Qatari, Egyptian, American and Israeli officials in Paris, calls for a six-week pause in the conflict, which would be used to free hostages held in Gaza in return for the release of Palestinian prisoners and the delivery of more aid into the besieged strip.

But Blinken’s visit to the region — his fifth since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October — comes amid mounting fears that the US is being drawn into a wider regional conflagration triggered by the conflict in Gaza.

The US launched significant retaliatory strikes in Iraq, Syria and Yemen at the weekend in retaliation for drone attack on a base in Jordan late last month that killed three American troops. The US has also repeatedly struck Iran-backed Houthi targets in Yemen, in response to the group’s attacks on ships in the Red Sea.

At the Pentagon on Monday, press secretary Major General Patrick Ryder said the US damaged or destroyed more than eight targets at seven sites, three in Syria and four in Iraq, and warned of more strikes to come. 

“This is the start of our response and there will be additional actions,” Ryder said. The strikes in Syria and Iraq targeted Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for the first time. While the US military is still analysing the strikes and said there were some casualties, those did not include Iranians, he said.

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