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Netanyahu promises ‘very powerful’ response if ceasefire broken

Israeli prime minister met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken following the 11-day Gaza bombardment.

Tel Aviv, May 25, 2021: United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said Washington will seek to provide $75 million to Palestinians for rebuilding efforts in Gaza after the 11-day Israeli bombardment of the besieged enclave, but will work to ensure the money does not reach Hamas.

Blinken made the comments in separate joint press conferences with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to the region on Tuesday, also pledging 5.5 million for in “immediate disaster assistance” for Gaza and about $32 million for the UN Agency for Palestinian refugees.

The secretary of state said the US sought to build off an initial ceasefire agreement that ended the escalation on May 21. Israeli air strikes during the fighting killed at least 248 Palestinians, including 66 children, in Gaza.

At least 12 Israelis, including two children, were killed by rockets fired by Hamas and other armed groups from Gaza during the fighting, which began on May 10.

“We welcome the ceasefire that continues to hold, but that’s not enough, we have to build on the ceasefire and try to move things in a genuinely positive direction,” Blinken said after his meeting with Abbas, adding his visit sought to “rebuild” relations with the Palestinian Authority, which were largely severed after former President Donald Trump moved the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to West Jerusalem in 2018.

Blinken also announced that the US would re-open its Consulate General in Jerusalem, which had overseen relations with the Palestinian Authority before it was absorbed by the relocated US embassy.

Unlike in statements during an earlier news conference with Netanyahu on Tuesday, which avoided talk of a wider peace process, Blinken said that a “just, durable resolution” between Israel and Palestine “ultimately requires two states”.

He added the US continues “to firmly oppose” any actions that threaten more violence, “whether that is settlement activities, whether that is home demolitions, annexation of territory, incitement to violence, compensation for individuals in prison for acts of terrorism”.

Still, reporting from Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, Al Jazeera’s James Bays said the general lack of emphasis on more comprehensive peace process during the visit indicates the “Biden policy is to put a lid on this conflict”.

“That, I think, is because they believe right now, the time is not right for peace,” he said.

Abbas, for his part, said he hoped that the future will be “full of diplomatic activities” with the US to “reach a comprehensive and just and full solution”.

‘Ensure that Hamas does not benefit’

Following a meeting with Netanyahu in West Jerusalem earlier in the day, Blinken also promised the US would work to assure international aid to rebuild Gaza would not benefit Hamas.

“We’ll work with our partners closely, with all, to ensure that Hamas does not benefit from the reconstruction assistance,” Blinken said, without detailing how that would be achieved.

Hamas, which the US considers a “terrorist organisation”, controls the Gaza Strip and remains at odds with the Palestinian Authority, which controls the occupied West Bank.

Blinken also rebuffed criticism that the administration of President Joe Biden should have taken a more public and firm line with Israel earlier on in the fighting, crediting Washington’s “intense, behind the scenes diplomacy” in bringing about the ceasefire.

He added that building on the agreement “starts with the recognition that losses on both sides were profound”.

The words are unlikely to satisfy human rights advocates, who have repeatedly called on the US to condemn Israel’s actions against Gaza, which destroyed residential buildings and infrastructure and which many observers argue amount to collective punishment.

The US previously and repeatedly blocked United Nations Security Council joint statements calling for a ceasefire during the violence.

Netanyahu, for his part, thanked the US for “firmly supporting Israel’s right to self-defence” during the escalation and vowed a “very powerful response” if Hamas breaks the ceasefire.

Both Blinken and Netanyahu hailed a US commitment to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system in the wake of the fighting, which comes amid calls by some US legislators address to curtail military aid and arms sales to Israel.

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