Blinken begins latest urgent Mideast tour in Turkey as fears grow that the Gaza war could engulf the entire region

ISTANBUL (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has launched his latest urgent Middle East diplomatic mission to Turkey, as fears grow that Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza could escalate into a wider conflict.

Blinken's fourth visit in three months comes amid worrying developments outside Gaza, including in Lebanon, northern Israel, the Red Sea and Iraq, putting intense pressure on the US's modestly successful effort to prevent regional conflict in a matter of weeks. War broke out, and international criticism of Israel's military campaign increased.

Blinken was meeting Saturday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan to discuss what Turkey and others can do specifically to exert influence. Iran and its representativesTo defuse escalating tensions, accelerate humanitarian aid deliveries to Gaza, and begin seriously planning for the reconstruction and governance of Gaza after the war, much of which was reduced to rubble by three months of intense Israeli bombardment Is.

Meanwhile, increasing attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea by Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels have disrupted international trade and efforts by the US and its allies to respond to threats, including patrolling the area and potentially taking over have increased. Direct action against the group against its bases in Yemen. In response, Houthis have launched at least two dozen attacks. Israel-Hamas war Tension in Gaza has increased since December 19 and risks to the global economy have increased.

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In Istanbul, U.S. officials said Blinken would like to get Turkey's buy-in, or at least consideration, for possible monetary or in-kind contributions to reconstruction efforts and some form of participation in the proposed multi-national force. Or can work around it. Area. Turkey, and particularly Erdogan, has been harshly critical of Israel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for its prosecution of the war and its impact on Palestinian civilians.

Additionally, officials said, Blinken will stress the importance of the US pushing Turkey to ratify Sweden's membership in NATO, a long-delayed process the Turks have said they will complete soon. Sweden's joining the alliance is seen as an important response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

From Turkey, Blinken will travel to Turkey's rival and fellow NATO ally Greece and meet Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at his residence on the Mediterranean island of Crete. Mitsotakis and his government have been supportive of US efforts to prevent the Gaza war from escalating and have indicated their willingness to assist if the situation worsens. Greece has also shown patience in waiting for the delivery of advanced US fighter planes as it deals with Turkey over Sweden's accession to NATO.

Blinken will end his Saturday in Jordan, which has been the secretary's most frequent stop on his recent Middle East tours other than Israel. Jordan will be the first Arab country on Blinken's current tour and will be followed by Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia on Sunday and Monday. Blinken will visit Israel and the West Bank on Tuesday and Wednesday before concluding the trip in Egypt.

“We do not expect that every interaction on this trip will be easy,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said shortly before Blinken departed Washington late Thursday. “There are clearly difficult issues facing the sector and difficult choices ahead. But the Secretary believes the United States has a responsibility to lead diplomatic efforts to address those challenges, and he stands ready to do so in the coming days.

Along with pressing Israel for a dramatic increase in humanitarian aid to Gaza, a shift toward less intense military operations and a concerted effort to rein in violence against Palestinians in the West Bank occupied by Jewish settlers, Blinken is reluctant to back the Gulf. Will urge Arab countries to work. With the US on the future of Gaza.

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