Blinken begins Mideast tour amid mounting political pressure on Netanyahu

After a particularly violent weekend in the region that saw Israeli hostages rescued, hundreds of Palestinians killed and a high-profile Israeli government resignation, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Cairo on Monday for his latest Middle East tour.

Blinken is expected to travel Monday to Israel, where he is likely to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, who resigned from the Israeli war cabinet on Sunday night in the latest blow to the government’s stability.

Blinken is then expected to visit Jordan and Qatar, where he will have to address the ire of the Arab nations regarding an Israeli operation on Friday night during which Israeli troops rescued four hostages in Gaza and killed nearly 300 Palestinians.

The visit to Israel comes amid upheaval within the government as Gantz’s departure Sunday from the war cabinet threatens Netanyahu’s hold on power and adds to domestic political pressure piling on him to accept a cease-fire proposal that seeks to bring back hostages still held in the Gaza Strip.

In Israel, thousands of protesters have been taking to the streets for weeks, led by hostages’ families and supporters who fear time is running out for their loved ones remaining in Gaza.


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More demonstrations are expected to be held during Blinken’s visit in Tel Aviv. One protest group called on Blinken and President Biden to “seal the deal,” saying Netanyahu is undermining the deal that aims to save the remaining hostages.

In a broadcast Sunday night, Gantz lambasted Netanyahu for his “empty promises” of “total victory,” instead of focusing on a hostage deal, working on a day-after plan for Gaza and taking action against Lebanon’s Hezbollah in the north.

“Unfortunately, Netanyahu is preventing us from achieving real victory,” Gantz said, calling for new leadership that would better steer Israel through its crises.

Netanyahu posted a response on X as Gantz was still speaking, warning of a fractured government. “Israel is in an existential war on several fronts,” he wrote. “Benny, this is not the time to abandon the war — this is the time to join forces.”

International pressure has also mounted on Israel, as well as Hamas, to accept the cease-fire proposal. United Nations agencies and international aid organizations have repeatedly issued urgent pleas to allow for the increased and safe flow of aid into the battered territory.

On Sunday, the director of the U.N. World Food Program said the organization has paused its distribution of humanitarian aid due to concerns about the safety of staffers. Cindy McCain told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that two of the program’s warehouses were “rocketed” in Gaza and that a staffer was injured.

Getting aid into Gaza “remains very difficult,” said Scott Anderson, deputy director of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that aids Palestinians. Once inside the territory, distribution is also chaotic, he told The Post. Thefts often take place during the trip from the Kerem Shalom crossing to the warehouses, he said.

UNRWA is “focused on trying to get aid in and taking care of people in our shelters,” which currently house roughly half the displaced population, he said. There is a push also to start some schooling for children in shelters, even if it is limited to an hour per day — “just something to give the kids a sense of routine and get their minds engaged again.”

Al Jazeera denied the Israeli Defense Ministry’s claim that a Palestinian journalist involved in the hostage taking had worked for the channel. It said Abdullah al-Jamal, in whose home three hostages were found, had never worked for Al Jazeera and had only contributed to an op-ed in 2019. Its statement said that these “allegations are a continuation of the process of slander and misinformation aimed at harming Al Jazeera’s reputation, professionalism, and independence.” It said the repeated false allegations have “become ridiculous.”

At least ​​37,124 people have been killed and 84,712 injured in Gaza since the war started, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants but says the majority of the dead are women and children. Israel estimates that about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, including more than 300 soldiers, and it says 287 soldiers have been killed since the launch of its military operations in Gaza.

Claire Parker and Lior Soroka contributed to this report.

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