update deskIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Blinken heading to Riyadh for talks with Abbas, Arab leaders

"Hopefully the discussions can lead into a process towards reconciliation and peace," the president of the World Economic Forum said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 16, 2024. Photo by Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 16, 2024. Photo by Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas and Arab leaders this week on the sidelines of a World Economic Forum summit in Saudi Arabia, the organization’s president announced on Saturday.

Blinken will attend the talks alongside Qatar’s leader, Egypt’s foreign minister, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Kuwait’s foreign minister, Oman’s crown prince and Bahraini officials, Børge Brende said.

“We do have the key players now in Riyadh and hopefully the discussions can lead into a process towards reconciliation and peace,” Brende said at a press conference. “There is now a bit of momentum for negotiations on the hostages and also a possible ceasefire.”

The WEF chief said that the regional leaders would also seek to address what he called the “terrible humanitarian situation” in the Gaza Strip.

The State Department said Blinken would depart for Saudi Arabia on Monday, adding that talks would focus on “ongoing efforts to achieve a ceasefire in Gaza that secures the release of hostages and how it is Hamas that is standing between the Palestinian people and a ceasefire.”

The secretary of state will also discuss “efforts to achieve lasting peace and security in the region, including through a pathway to an independent Palestinian state with security guarantees for Israel,” the U.S. statement added.

Washington’s top diplomat will also fly to Israel as part of his trip to the Middle East. The New York Times on Friday cited Israeli officials as saying the visit is set to take place on Tuesday.

The officials said talks would center on the imminent Israel Defense Forces ground operation in the southern Gaza Hamas stronghold of Rafah, as well as the remaining 133 hostages held by the terrorist group.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on Saturday that the offensive in Rafah would be suspended if a hostage release deal is secured, calling it the top priority to free the remaining abductees taken on Oct. 7.

“The release of the hostages is the top priority for us,” the member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Security Cabinet said, adding that “if there will be a deal, we will suspend the operation.”

Israeli forces are preparing for the Rafah offensive to destroy Hamas in Gaza, which Jerusalem says is essential to defeating the Iran-backed terrorist organization responsible for the Oct. 7 massacre of some 1,200 people.

Jerusalem has repeatedly emphasized that telling Israel to refrain from operating in Rafah is equivalent to demanding that it lose the war. According to Israel, the final four Hamas battalions, composed of some 3,000 terrorists, are holed up in the city along the Egyptian border.

Many of the 133 hostages still in the hands of Hamas after 204 days are believed to be held in Rafah. Special forces rescued two captives from the city in February.

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