Senior US, French officials in Middle East to discuss Gaza

French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said on Monday that talks on a ceasefire in Gaza between Hamas and Israel were progressing as he joined U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Saudi Arabia

Publication: 29.04.2024 - 12:08
Senior US, French officials in Middle East to discuss Gaza
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Sejourne is expected to hold talks in Riyadh with ministers of Arab and other Western countries as well as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

"Things are moving forward but you always have to be careful in these discussions and negotiations. The situation in Gaza is catastrophic and we need a ceasefire," Sejourne told Reuters on the sidelines of a World Economic Forum meeting.

"We will discuss the hostages, humanitarian situation and the ceasefire. Things are progressing, but we must always remain prudent in these discussions and negotiations," he said.

The trip comes as Egypt was expected to host leaders of the Palestinian group Hamas to discuss prospects for a ceasefire agreement with Israel.

Blinken arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday, the first stop in a broader trip to the Middle East.

In Riyadh, he is expected to meet senior Saudi leaders and also hold a wider meeting with counterparts from five Arab states – Qatar, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan – to discuss what governance of the Gaza Strip might look like after the Israel-Hamas war ends, according to a senior State Department official.

Blinken is also expected to bring together Arab and European countries and discuss how Europe can help the rebuilding effort of the Gaza Strip, which has been reduced to a wasteland in a six-month-long Israeli bombardment.

Hamas fighters attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel retaliated by imposing a total siege on Gaza, then launching an air and ground assault that has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to health authorities in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Conversations over Gaza's rebuilding and governance have been going on for months with a clear mechanism yet to emerge.

The United States agrees with Israel's objective that Hamas needs to be eradicated and cannot play a role in Gaza’s future, but Washington does not want Israel to re-occupy the enclave.

Instead, it has been looking at a structure that will include a reformed Palestinian Authority with support from Arab states.

Blinken will also discuss with Saudi authorities efforts for a normalisation accord between the kingdom and Israel, a deal that includes Washington giving Riyadh agreements on bilateral defence and security commitments as well as nuclear cooperation.

In return for normalisation, Arab states and Washington are pushing for Israel to agree to a pathway for Palestinian statehood, something Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected.

From Riyadh, Blinken will head to Jordan and Israel and the focus of the trip will shift to the efforts to improve the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.

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