Top U.S. diplomat set to return to the Mideast for 5th time since Gaza conflict began

Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies before a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing to examine the national security supplemental request, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
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Associated Press

By MATTHEW LEE AP Diplomatic Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken will return to the Middle East later this week on his fifth urgent diplomatic mission since I srael’s war with Hamas began in October, the White House and a State Department official said Wednesday.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby and the State Department official said Blinken would travel to the Mideast this weekend as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to prepare for post-conflict reconstruction and governance of Gaza, ramp up humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians, release hostages held by Hamas and prevent the war from spreading.

The trip comes as discussions over a cease-fire and hostage release are intensifying, but also as fears grow of a regional conflict.

“These negotiations, our negotiations, are very, very active,” Kirby said, noting talks held last weekend between CIA Director William Burns, senior Israeli and Egyptian intelligence officials and Qatar’s prime minister. “We believe that the discussions have been productive. They’ve been moving in the right direction.”

He also recalled a recent trip to the Mideast by national security council official Brett McGurk, a call between President Joe Biden and the emir of Qatar, whose country is the chief interlocutor with Hamas, and he said: Blinken “will be heading back over to the region at the end of this week.”

The State Department official said Blinken would be traveling to the Middle East “in the coming days” but could not give exact dates or destinations because the trip was still being planned. On his previous visits, Blinken has stopped in Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Iraq.