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US will make ‘significant contributions’ to rebuilding Gaza, Blinken says in first stop of Mideast tour

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The United States will make “significant contributions” to rebuilding Gaza following the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Jerusalem on the first day of his first official visit to the region.

Blinken, speaking alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the US would “work to ensure that Hamas does not benefit” from the aid, further details of which would be announced later Tuesday.

Blinken’s meeting with Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials marked the first stop on a trip to the Middle East that will take him to Israel, the West Bank, Egypt and Jordan.

The tour comes on the heels of the worst violence in years between Israel and Hamas. Israeli strikes during the recent conflict killed at least 248 Palestinians, including 66 children, according to Hamas health officials. At least 12 people in Israel, including two children, were killed by Palestinian militant fire from Gaza, according to Israel’s military and the emergency service.

Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire on Friday, after 11 days of conflict.

Speaking on Tuesday, Blinken said the losses on both sides in the conflict between Israel and Hamas were “profound.”

“Casualties are often reduced to numbers. But behind every number is a human being — a daughter, a son, a father, a mother, a grandparent, a best friend. And as the Talmud teaches, to lose a life is to lose the whole world, whether that life is Palestinian or Israeli,” Blinken said.

Blinken said he and Netanyahu had a detailed discussion about Israel’s security needs, including re-supplying the Iron Dome aerial defense system with rocket interceptors.

Blinken also spoke about the right of Israelis and Palestinians, who he said “equally deserve to live safely and securely, to enjoy equal measures of freedom, opportunity and democracy, to be treated with dignity,” but he did not specifically mention the two-state solution or suggest that comprehensive peace negotiations were imminent.

Netanyahu used the meeting to urge the US not to return to the Iran nuclear deal known as the JCPOA. He said the deal would allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons, and said Israel reserved the right to defend itself.

In response, Blinken said only that Washington would “continue to consult” with Israel as indirect talks between Iran and the US continue in Vienna, Austria.

Blinken was scheduled to meet with the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh later on Tuesday. According to the schedule shared by the State Department, he will then meet Palestinian civil society leaders.

Last week, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Blinken would meet with “Israeli, Palestinian, and regional counterparts” to “discuss recovery efforts and working together to build better futures for Israelis and Palestinians.”

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