Israel-Gaza conflict: Blinken promises US support for Gaza reconstructionon May 25, 2021 at 11:07 am

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The US secretary of state wants to consolidate a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants.

Palestinians sit in a makeshift tent amid the rubble of buildings destroyed in Israeli air strikes in Gaza (23 May 2021)

image copyrightReuters

The US will help rebuild Gaza as part of efforts to consolidate the ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militant groups, the secretary of state says.

After meeting Israel’s prime minister, Antony Blinken said it was necessary to tackle the grave humanitarian situation to prevent a return to violence.

But he added that the US would ensure the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, did not benefit.

Mr Blinken also reiterated US support for Israel’s right to defend itself.

More than 250 people were killed, the vast majority of them in Gaza, in 11 days of fierce fighting that ended on Friday with an Egyptian-brokered truce.

The violence came after weeks of spiralling Israeli-Palestinian tension in occupied East Jerusalem which culminated in clashes at a holy site revered by both Muslims and Jews. Hamas began firing rockets after warning Israel to withdraw from the site, triggering retaliatory air strikes.

Mr Blinken began a three-day trip to the Middle East in Jerusalem by meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who thanked him for “firmly supporting Israel’s right of self-defence” during the escalation.

“We, too, will give meaning to our commitment to our self-defence: if Hamas breaks the calm and attacks Israel, our response will be very powerful,” Mr Netanyahu warned.

The prime minister also said they had discussed replenishing the Iron Dome missile defence system that protects Israel from Palestinian rocket fire, and ways to prevent Hamas rearming.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a joint news conference in Jerusalem (25 May 2021)

image copyrightReuters

Mr Blinken said intense, behind-the-scenes diplomacy by US President Joe Biden had helped produce last week’s ceasefire, and that “now we believe we must build on it”.

He added: “We know that to prevent a return to violence we have to use the space created to address a larger set of underlying issues and challenges. And that begins with tackling the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza and starting to rebuild.”

He said the US would rally international support around that effort while also making its own “significant contributions”, including some that would be announced later on Tuesday.

He also promised to ensure Hamas would not benefit from the assistance. Hamas is designated as a terrorist group by the US, EU, UK and Israel.

Israeli authorities said earlier that they were allowing fuel, medicine and food for Gaza’s private sector to enter the territory for the first time since the fighting ended.

Mr Blinken is due to visit Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday afternoon to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The UN said on Sunday that 242 Palestinians, including 66 children and 38 women, were killed in the conflict, and that its human right’s office had verified that at least 129 of them were civilians.

It added that at least 230 of the Palestinian fatalities were seemingly killed by Israeli forces, and that some of the casualties in Gaza might have resulted from rockets falling short.

Streaks of light are seen as Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercept rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel (12 May 2021)

image copyrightReuters

The IDF said it killed more than 200 militants during the fighting. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have not given overall casualty figures for their fighters.

In Israel, 13 people, including two children and three foreign nationals, were killed by Palestinian rocket or other fire, or when running for shelter during rocket attacks, its medical service said.

The UN cited the Palestinian housing ministry as saying 258 buildings, comprising 1,042 housing and commercial units, were destroyed during the fighting. In addition, 769 housing units were severely damaged and 14,536 suffered minor damage.

A lorry carrying goods passes through the reopened Kerem Shalom crossing in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip (25 May 2021)

image copyrightReuters

Fifty-four education facilities, six hospitals and 11 primary healthcare facilities were also damaged, as was water, sanitation, and electric infrastructure, according to the UN.

Palestinian officials put reconstruction costs at tens of millions of dollars.

The Israeli government has not yet published its estimate for the damages, but many buildings and vehicles were damaged by rocket-fire.

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