U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised Tuesday, during a diplomatic tour in the Middle East, that the Biden administration will ask Congress to provide $75 million in aid to rebuild the Gaza Strip, which was recently battered by armed conflict between Israel and Hamas.
The first stop on Blinken’s trip was Jerusalem, where he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. During the discussion, the Israeli leader warned that his nation would strike a “very powerful response” if Hamas re-engaged in rocket fire attacks.
After nearly two weeks of hostilities, Hamas and Israel agreed to a ceasefire Friday with Egypt mediating to broker the truce.
Speaking alongside Netanyahu during a press conference Tuesday, Blinken said that he was sent by President Joe Biden to “demonstrate the commitment of the United States to Israel’s security and start to work toward greater security and reduce tensions in the West Bank and Jerusalem” and to talk about rebuilding efforts in Gaza to create a more stable environment there.
“The United States fully supports Israel’s right to defend against attack,” the secretary stated.
He also expressed his intention for the U.S. to foster better relationships with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority, which he implied had deteriorated under the previous administration.
“We know that to prevent a return to violence we have to use the space created to address a larger set of underlying issues and challenges,” Blinken said. “And that begins with tackling the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza and starting to rebuild.”
The secretary indicated that the U.S. is committed to ensuring the aid will help the Palestinian civilians and will not be unintentionally diverted to Hamas’ military coffers and operations. The U.S. support is at least partially intended to maintain the pause in fighting, which is on its fifth consecutive day.
“We will work with our partners, closely with all to ensure that Hamas does not benefit from the reconstruction assistance,” Blinken remarked.
However, a senior State Department official acknowledged Monday during a call preceding Blinken’s trip that the Biden administration cannot guarantee the humanitarian aid will not directly or indirectly fund Hamas’ arsenal rather than Palestinian refugees, according to a transcript of the briefing.
When asked about his confidence that the aid will be delivered primarily to the people of Gaza, the official said the U.S. will collaborate with international bodies, mediating states, and the parties in question to do that.
“We’re going to be working in partnership with the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority to kind of channel aid there in a manner that does its best to go to the people of Gaza. I’m also sure that the Government of Egypt will have some role in that,” he said.
“As we’ve seen in life, as we all know in life, there are no guarantees, but we’re going to do everything that we can to ensure that this assistance reaches the people who need it the most,” he continued.
Blinken also met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh in Ramallah in the West Bank territory Tuesday. Following those conversations, the secretary announced the United States would also provide $5.5 million in immediate disaster relief for Gaza and $32 million to United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).