The United States’ top diplomat was on his fourth crisis visit to the Middle East since Israel’s war in Gaza began, meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.
The United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has said the civilian death toll in Gaza is “far too high”, especially among children, during his fourth official trip to Israel since October 7.
Speaking at a press briefing in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Secretary Blinken said his concern was also shared by his interlocutors in Turkey, Greece, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
As part of a joint diplomatic drive to de-escalate Israeli-induced tensions in the Middle East, Blinken – in tandem with the European Union’s senior diplomat, Josep Borrell – is touring the region.
Since October 7, Israel has killed more than 23,000 Palestinians, including at least 9,600 children. Meanwhile, Palestinian survivors of Israel’s indiscriminate onslaught are living in peril.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that at least 85% of Gaza’s population is now internally displaced, amid Israel’s destruction of 60% of homes in the enclave.
UN OCHA reported that 2.2 million Palestinians are battling an immediate risk of famine, with northern governorates being completely cut off from access to fresh water supplies.
The UN’s humanitarian office is also worried about the heightened risk of communicable disease spreading among overcrowded shelter facilities with little to no access to fresh water.
Despite this, calls for a much-needed humanitarian ceasefire were noticeably absent from Secretary Blinken’s press address.
‘UN mission’ to northern Gaza
Tuesday’s press briefing saw Blinken also announce that he and his Israeli counterparts have agreed for the UN to carry out an “assessment mission” in northern Gaza.
“It will be done to determine what needs to be done to allow displaced Palestinians to return safely to homes in the north,” he said.
He added that this process wouldn’t be instantaneous, given the “serious security, infrastructure and humanitarian challenges. But, the mission will start a process that evaluates these obstacles and how they can be overcome.”
However, UN OCHA revealed that a planned joint mission with the World Health Organization to deliver much-needed fuel, sanitation facilities and fresh water into Gaza City and the north was “ denied by the Israeli authorities” as recently as January 8.
Since December 26, Israel has blocked UN humanitarian missions to Jabalya’s Al Awda Hospital in Gaza’s Central Drug Store five times.
“The continued denial of fuel delivery to water and sanitation facilities is leaving tens of thousands of people without access to clean water and increasing the risk of sewage overflows, significantly heightening the risk of the spread of communicable diseases,” UN OCHA said.
Amid Israel’s blockade of the besieged Strip, Blinken admitted on Tuesday that “hundreds of thousands of [Palestinians] are experiencing acute food insecurity.”
The sheer scale of civilians on the brink of starvation, as well as many other acts and omissions by Israel, were compiled by South Africa in a dossier and sent to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to be tried for a Gaza genocide.
On December 29, South Africa initiated court proceedings against the violent occupying force for contravening the UN’s Genocide Convention.
“South Africa seeks hereby, pursuant to that common interest urgently to protect the rights of Palestinians in Gaza, as members of a protected group under the Convention, including their right to exist as a group and their right to be protected from acts of genocide and the risk thereof,” the complaint said.
However, echoing the earlier sentiment of his colleague, John Kirby, the U.S. Coordinator for Strategic Communications, Blinken said on Tuesday that South Africa’s charges are “meritless.”
“We believe the submission against Israel at the International Court of Justice distracts the world,” he said. “Moreover, the charge of genocide is meritless.”
Many nations have rallied in support of South Africa’s bid to indict Israel for its relentless crimes against Palestinians.
On Wednesday, Al Jazeera reported that Britain’s former opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, will join the South African delegation at the upcoming ICJ hearings.
A staunch supporter of Palestine, on Monday, Corbyn called on the British government to back South Africa’s genocide case against Israel.
“South Africa has taken an initiative in going to the International Court in order to hold Israel to account for the deaths of so many wholly innocent people in Gaza. Can’t the government understand that and at least support the South African process?” he said.