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Blinken returns to Middle East in mission to free hostages, pause war
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Blinken returns to Middle East in mission to free hostages, pause war
by A.L. Lee
Washington DC (UPI) Feb 5, 2024

Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to the Middle East for a four-day trip aimed at freeing the remaining hostages in Gaza and to seek an extended pause in the Israel-Hamas war.

Blinken's visit extends until Thursday and will include stops in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Israel, and the West Bank, marking his fifth visit to the region since the conflict began Oct. 7, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

In talks with U.S. foreign partners, Blinken will discuss strategies to free dozens of hostages still held by Hamas, deliver humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees, and contain the war as fighting has spilled beyond Gaza amid continuing attacks by Iran-backed militants, the State Department said.

Blinken's visit takes place as the United States and Britain launched a second round of airstrikes against Houthi-controlled targets in Yemen as the Iran proxy militia continues to fire on commercial shipping vessels in the Red Sea.

A day earlier, the U.S. launched strikes on militias in Syria and Iraq that killed at least 39 people and injured dozens more in both countries, according to international observers.

President Joe Biden ordered the retaliatory strikes after three American soldiers were killed and more than 40 other U.S. troops wounded a week earlier in a drone attack in Jordan near the border with Iraq and Syria.

The U.S. continues to blame Iran-backed militants for increasing instability in the region, while Iran has denied any connection to recent aggressions.

Blinken's visit is intended to emphasize that "the United States would take appropriate steps to defend its personnel and the right to freedom of navigation in the Red Sea," the State Department said.

The primary goal for Washington is to establish a more integrated, peaceful region that includes lasting security for both Israelis and Palestinians, while Blinken previously called for "equal measures of dignity and security."

During his last trip to the Middle East on Jan. 7, Blinken met with Qatari Prime Minister Al Thani, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Jordanian King Abdullah II, with whom he stressed the critical importance of preventing the war from spreading.

"We share a commitment to ensure that the conflict does not expand, and I think we also share a commitment to use the influence, the relationships, the ties that we have with different parties in the region to try to avoid escalation and to deter new fronts from opening," he said at the time.

Since then, new fighting has erupted between Israel and the Lebanese military group Hezbollah as Houthi rebels have escalated attacks on ships in the Red Sea, while militants launch strikes on U.S. military personnel in Iraq and Syria..

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