Ending Mideast tour, Blinken says US ‘very aggressively’ pushing for more aid to Gaza

Top American diplomat says US has ‘very concrete ways’ to expand humanitarian assistance, as he meets Turkish counterpart, who urges immediate ceasefire in Strip

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) is welcomed by Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan prior to their meeting at the foreign ministry in Ankara, on November 6, 2023. (Adem Altan/AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) is welcomed by Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan prior to their meeting at the foreign ministry in Ankara, on November 6, 2023. (Adem Altan/AFP)

ANKARA, Turkey — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday that Washington was working “very aggressively” to dramatically expand the amount of aid reaching trapped civilians in Gaza amid the Israel-Hamas war.

The top US diplomat held 2.5 hours of one-on-one talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan that were focused on soothing the anger at both Israel and the West by one of Washington’s most strategic but difficult allies.

NATO member Turkey has been an increasingly vocal critic of the way Israel has been pursuing its month-long offensive against Hamas terrorists who staged an October 7 onslaught in southern Israel — massacring 1,400 people in the deadliest attack in Israel’s history.

Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse hundreds of protesters who marched on an air base housing US forces in southeastern Turkey hours before Blinken’s arrival Sunday.

Hundreds more rallied outside the Turkish foreign ministry during his visit.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself was traveling across Turkey’s remote northeast on Monday, in an apparent snub of Washington’s top diplomat.

Trucks carrying humanitarian aid enter the southern Gaza Strip from Egypt via the Rafah border crossing on November 2, 2023, as the war between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas continues. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

Blinken told reporters after the meeting that Washington was aware of “the deep concern” in Turkey “for the terrible toll” in Gaza.

“We are working, as I said, very aggressively on getting more humanitarian assistance into Gaza and we have very concrete ways of doing that,” Blinken said before boarding a plane for Japan.

“I think we will see in the days ahead that the assistance can expand in significant ways,” he added, without providing details.

A Turkish diplomatic source said Fidan pressed Blinken for “an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.”

“Fidan also pointed out to his US counterpart Blinken that bombing civilian targets and destroying infrastructure in Gaza is unacceptable,” the Turkish source said.

Tough talks

Blinken’s talks with Fidan would have been packed with problems even before Israel launched a relentless bombing and expanding ground campaign aimed at eradicating Hamas, after the terror group’s shock assault last month against Israel, in which Palestinian terrorists slaughtered over 1,400 people — the vast majority civilians, massacred amid brutal atrocities — and took over 240 hostages.

The Hamas-run health ministry said nearly 10,000 people — allegedly mostly civilians — had been killed in more than four weeks of war in Gaza. The figure cannot be verified independently and is believed to include both the terror group’s fighters and those killed by Palestinian rockets that misfired.

Smoke billows following an Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 6, 2023, during the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The war threatens to have broad repercussions on Washington’s relations with Turkey.

Ankara has a muscular foreign policy and stakes in conflicts across the Middle East that occasionally fail to align with those of Washington or other NATO allies.

Washington is currently anxious to see Turkey’s parliament finally ratify Sweden’s stalled drive to join the US-led NATO defense organization.

The United States has also been tightening sanctions against Turkish individuals and companies that are deemed to be helping Russia evade sanctions and import goods for use in its war on Ukraine.

And Ankara is upset that the US Congress is holding up the approval of a deal backed by US President Joe Biden to modernize Turkey’s air force with dozens of US F-16 fighter jets.

Turkey also has longstanding reservations about US support for Kurdish forces in Syria who spearheaded the fight against Islamic State group jihadists but are viewed by Ankara as an offshoot of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Ankara has stepped up airstrikes against armed Kurdish groups in Syria and Iraq in reprisal for an October attack on the Turkish capital, claimed by the PKK, in which two assailants died.

Blinken called his talks in Ankara “very good, lengthy, and productive.”

But he provided few details about the outstanding dispute and highlighted Turkey’s “commitment” to accept Sweden into NATO.

People hold up placards during a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protest outside the Turkish foreign ministry in Ankara, Turkey, November 6, 2023. (Ali Unal/AP)

Blinken faced a chorus of Arab calls to support an immediate ceasefire in Gaza during a whirlwind tour of the Middle East that saw him visit both Iraq and the West Bank on Sunday.

Israel says it could accept a humanitarian pause to allow in additional shipments of aid once Hamas frees the hostages.

Blinken said on Monday only that a “pause could help” secure more aid deliveries to Gaza.

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