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Blinken to visit Israel as Rafah battle looms

The secretary will reportedly tour Kibbutz Be'er and the Kerem Shalom Crossing to the Gaza Strip.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Feb. 7, 2024. Photo by Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Feb. 7, 2024. Photo by Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to fly to Israel this week following talks with Arab leaders in Riyadh, officials in Jerusalem told The New York Times on Friday.

According to the Times, the visit will take place on Tuesday, though the State Department has yet to announce any stops beyond Saudi Arabia.

Israeli 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.

Blinken will also tour Kibbutz Be’eri, where Hamas terrorists butchered more than a hundred people during their Oct. 7 assault, as well as the Kerem Shalom Crossing with the Gaza Strip, Ynet said.

President Joe Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month that he would not support a major offensive against the terrorist group in Rafah. Instead, the White House favors a limited operation aimed at attacking high-value Hamas targets and securing the Gaza-Egypt border.

Biden would consider limiting “certain arms sales to Israel” if the IDF launches a ground operation in the city, the Times reported last week.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on Saturday that the offensive in Rafah would be suspended if a deal to free abductees held in Gaza is secured.

“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 terrorist group 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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