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State Secretary Blinken travels to the Center East after Israeli-Palestinian violence

Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he leaves Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland on May 24, 2021.

Alex Brandon | AFP | Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to the Middle East on Monday to ensure the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas continued.

"The most important thing is that the ceasefire is in place. It is extremely important that it is. We do not want to see a return to the bloodshed that was heartbreaking during the 11-day conflict," a senior State Department official told the trip.

Blinken will travel to Jerusalem, Ramallah, Cairo and Amman by Thursday and meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Jordanian King Abdullah and other top officials.

"After our quiet, intense diplomacy to bring about a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, I asked my Secretary of State Tony Blinken to travel to the Middle East this week," President Joe Biden said in a statement Monday. Emphasizing that part of the trip will include Blinken's meeting with Israeli leaders, "on our staunch commitment to the security of Israel".

Blinken will also focus on US-Palestinian relations, described in the Biden Declaration as "our government's efforts to restore and support relations with the Palestinian people and leaders after years of neglect."

The Israeli Security Cabinet voted Thursday to approve a provisional ceasefire after 11 days of fighting with Hamas in Israel and the Gaza Strip, the worst violence the area has seen since 2014. The negotiations that led to the ceasefire were led by Egypt, the only country with open lines of communication with Israel and Hamas, the US-designated terrorist group that rules the Gaza Strip.

The news of a truce followed a call Wednesday between Biden and Netanyahu. During that call, Biden said he expected "significant de-escalation" of violence, according to the White House.

It was their fourth conversation since the outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic political party with an armed wing of the same name that controls the Gaza Strip.

Israeli air strikes and internecine fighting killed more than 220 Palestinians in Gaza in 11 days, including more than 100 women and children. During that time, Hamas fired more than 4,000 rockets at Israel, killing 12 people, including two children.

Biden has come under fire from human rights groups and progressive Democrats because they were perceived as an escalation of the conflict and because his government continued to support Israel financially and militarily. His administration has revived support for Palestinians and restored $ 235 million in US aid – most of it going to the UN refugee program for Palestinians – which was cut completely under the Trump administration.

The US provides Israel with US $ 3.8 billion in military aid annually. In early May, before the fighting began, the Biden government approved the sale of $ 735 million worth of precision-guided ammunition to Israel – a sale that several progressive Democrats are now trying to stop.

A Palestinian woman carries her child amid the rubble of her homes destroyed by Israeli air strikes during the Israel-Hamas fighting in Gaza on May 23, 2021.

Mohammed Salem | Reuters

The violence in the blocked Gaza Strip, the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Jerusalem and several locations in Israel was sparked by protests against the Israeli government's threat to evict some Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem.

The demonstrations, which were mostly peaceful but also involved throwing stones, sparked a harsh Israeli reaction, such as the firing of tranquilizers at the Al-Aqsa mosque complex during prayers in the holy month of Ramadan. In response, Hamas fired rocket barriers from Gaza to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and elsewhere in Israel.

Israel then launched air strikes that the military said were directed against Hamas, but bombed several civilian homes and a building that housed foreign media outlets such as The Associated Press.

Israel has occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem since the 1967 war and established Jewish settlements that the majority of the international community consider illegal under international law. Israel rejects this.

Natasha Turak reported from Dubai. Amanda Macias reported from Washington.

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