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Blinken makes unannounced visit to West Bank to meet Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas

RAMALLAH – U.S. top diplomat Antony Blinken made an unannounced visit to the occupied West Bank on Sunday and met with the Palestinian Authority president as he continues a tour of the region amid spiraling tensions over Israel’s war with Hamas.

Blinken and Mahmoud Abbas met in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the de facto Palestinian capital, on his second visit to the region since Palestinian Hamas fighters launched a surprise attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,400 people and taking more than 240 others hostage.

As Israel continued a campaign of air strikes that Gaza health officials say has killed nearly 9,500 Palestinians, Secretary of State Blinken rebuffed calls for a ceasefire from Arab officials on Saturday after appealing, unsuccessfully, to Israel for more limited pauses to the fighting a day earlier.

As well as seeking to ensure the conflict does not spread in the region, Blinken is trying to kickstart discussions on how Gaza could be governed after the complete destruction of Hamas that Israel says is its aim.

Blinken told Abbas that the Palestinian Authority should play a central role in what comes next in the Gaza Strip, a senior State Department official told Reuters.

“(The) future of Gaza was not the focus of the meeting but the Palestinian Authority seemed willing to play a role,” the senior State Department official added.

The two met for about an hour but did not address the media.

Abbas told Blinken there should be an immediate ceasefire and that aid should be allowed into Gaza, according to spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh.

Blinken said the United States was committed to getting aid into Gaza and restoring essential services there, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a readout of the meeting.

“The Secretary also expressed the commitment of the United States to working toward the realization of the Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations for the establishment of a Palestinian state,” Miller said.

Blinken has suggested an “effective and revitalized Palestinian Authority” would make the most sense to ultimately run the strip but admitted that other countries and international agencies would likely play a role in security and governance in the interim.

Abbas’ Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has seen its popularity shrivel amid allegations of graft, incompetence and widely hated security cooperation arrangements with Israel. It is unclear who will succeed the aging and ailing Abbas, 87, a staunch opponent of Hamas.

The foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan said on Saturday after meeting with Blinken that it was premature to talk about the future of Gaza, as they called for an immediate ceasefire to address the humanitarian crisis that has engulfed the strip’s 2.3 million residents.

Abbas’ Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has seen its popularity shrivel amid allegations of graft, incompetence and widely hated security cooperation arrangements with Israel. It is unclear who will succeed the aging and ailing Abbas, 87, a staunch opponent of Hamas.

Blinken argued that a ceasefire would only allow Hamas to regroup, but is trying to convince Israel to agree to location-specific pauses that would allow much needed aid to be distributed within Gaza.

The meeting was Blinken’s second with Abbas since the conflict began, but the first to take place in the West Bank. It was not announced ahead of time and Reuters agreed not to publish details of the trip until it was complete due to security concerns.

Violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, already at a more than 15-year high this year, has surged further since the war began, with more than 170 attacks on Palestinians involving Jewish settlers recorded by the United Nations.

Blinken and Abbas “discussed efforts to restore calm and stability in the West Bank, including the need to stop extremist violence against Palestinians and hold those accountable responsible,” Miller said.

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