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As Hamas war threatens regional spillover, Blinken starts whirlwind tour

“Throughout his trip, the secretary will underscore the importance of protecting civilian lives in Israel, and the West Bank and Gaza,” per a U.S. State Department spokesman.

As he arrives in Istanbul Airport on Jan. 5, 2024, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is greeted by a Turkish diplomat and a representative of Istanbul's governor, as Jeff Flake, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, looks on. Credit: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.
As he arrives in Istanbul Airport on Jan. 5, 2024, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is greeted by a Turkish diplomat and a representative of Istanbul's governor, as Jeff Flake, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, looks on. Credit: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Turkey on Friday, beginning a whirlwind tour of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East as Israel’s war with Hamas continues to threaten to escalate into a wider regional conflict.

Over eight days, Blinken plans to travel to Turkey, Greece, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the West Bank and Egypt.

“Throughout his trip, the secretary will underscore the importance of protecting civilian lives in Israel, and the West Bank and Gaza,” stated Matthew Miller, the State Department spokesman.

“He will also discuss urgent mechanisms to stem violence, calm rhetoric and reduce regional tensions, including deterring Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea and avoiding escalation in Lebanon,” Miller added.

He said that the United States continues to support a two-state solution to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict and is opposed to any forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza.

On Thursday, the State Department announced that Barbara Leaf, assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, and Derek Chollet, a counselor of the department, are traveling to Israel and Jordan before joining Blinken for meetings in the region.

Blinken’s visit comes as Iranian proxies in Lebanon and Yemen have threatened a regional escalation of Israel’s war against Hamas.

Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, said on Friday that there would “undoubtedly” be a battlefield response to the killing of Hamas deputy political chief Saleh al-Arouri in Beirut on Jan. 2.

Hamas has claimed that al-Arouri was killed in an Israeli drone strike.

The United States and 13 countries warned the Yemen-based Houthis on Jan. 3 against further attacks on shipping in the Red Sea. Since November, the Houthis have carried out attacks that have almost entirely diverted commercial traffic around the strategically vital waterway.

Just hours after the U.S.-led warning, the Houthis launched an attack against U.S. Navy ships and commercial vessels using an “unmanned surface vessel.” The latter detonated a couple of miles away from the ships, the Associated Press reported.

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