A trip back to the Middle East by the United States’ top diplomat to continue talks on a possible cease-fire deal highlights a week of high-level wrangling over the war in Gaza and beyond.
Starting on Monday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken is expected to visit Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank on his trip to the Middle East, in hopes of reaching an agreement to release the remaining hostages held in Gaza and secure a humanitarian pause for civilians there, the State Department said.
Hamas has said it is considering a cease-fire proposal, but signaled that there were still significant gaps to bridge. Egyptian and Qatari mediators, along with Israel and the United States, have given Hamas a proposal that would pause the fighting for the first time since a one-week cease-fire in November during which more than 100 hostages were freed.
Here’s what to watch for this week:
The United Nations Security Council will gather on Monday after Russia called for an “urgent” meeting to discuss U.S. strikes. The United States has retaliated for a deadly drone attack by bombing Iran-backed militia targets in Syria and Iraq. Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, accused the United States on Saturday of carrying out the strikes with the intention of further escalating conflict in the Middle East, saying the strikes demonstrated the “aggressive nature of U.S. policy” in the region.
Further retaliation was possible this week, after top U.S. national security officials said on Sunday that President Biden had approved additional actions, although they did not specify the timing or nature of the response. Friday’s strikes in Syria and Iraq, followed by additional U.S.-led strikes against the Houthi militia in Yemen over the weekend, were a sharp escalation of the conflict that has rippled from Israel’s war against Hamas.
Senate Republicans and Democrats on Sunday introduced a $118.3 billion compromise bill on migration that includes $14.1 billion in security assistance for Israel and $10 billion for humanitarian aid for civilians in conflict zones including Gaza. But a backlash from House leaders threatened the deal’s chances of passing a deeply divided Congress.