WASHINGTON - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Egypt, Israel and the West Bank from Sunday to Tuesday to discuss heightened tensions between Israelis and Palestinians as well as the war in Ukraine with regional leaders, the State Department said.
The top U.S. diplomat's visit was announced just hours after Israeli commandos killed seven gunmen and two civilians in the occupied West Bank, according to Palestinian officials, stirring fear of further flare-ups after the largest single death toll in years of fighting.
In meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Blinken will discuss Israeli-Palestinian relations and preserving the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement on Thursday.
"With both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the Secretary will underscore the urgent need for the parties to take steps to deescalate tensions in order to put an end to the cycle of violence that has claimed too many innocent lives," Price said.
He said Blinken would also discuss the importance of upholding the status quo around the Haram al-Sharif or Temple Mount, where a visit by Itamar Ben-Gvir, the far-right security minister in Netanyahu's newly elected government, recently stirred outrage among Palestinians. The decades-old status quo allows only Muslim worship at the compound, a site also revered by Jews.
Blinken's trip comes on the heels of a visit by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan to Israel last week, where he discussed the war in Ukraine and concerns over U.S. regional adversary Iran's support for Russia's invasion through the provision of drones.
While Israel has condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it has limited its assistance to Kyiv to humanitarian aid and protective gear.
In Cairo, Blinken will meet with President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and other Egyptian officials, aimed at strengthening the two countries' strategic partnership and bolstering their shared support for elections in Libya and talks to form a civilian government in Sudan after a 2021 military coup, Price said.
(Reporting by Simon Lewis; additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)