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World

Blinken meets Saudi crown prince before heading to Israel

Published January 8, 2024
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at al-Ula in northwestern Saudi Arabia on January 8, 2024, during his week-long trip aimed at calming tensions across the Middle East. Photo: AFP
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at al-Ula in northwestern Saudi Arabia on January 8, 2024, during his week-long trip aimed at calming tensions across the Middle East. Photo: AFP

AL-ULA: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Monday with Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler before heading to Israel as part of efforts to stop the Gaza war spiralling into a regional conflict.

Blinken was expected to discuss Red Sea attacks by the Iran-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen, Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbour, during his talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Their private meeting in Al Ula, a historic oasis in western Saudi, is the latest leg of a rapid tour of the region as concerns over the Israel-Hamas war continue to mount.

Israel attacks south Gaza as top US diplomat seeks de-escalation

The talks were also set to touch on a potential normalisation of ties with Israel after initial discussions were put on hold by the Israel-Hamas war, a senior official said.

Blinken “emphasised the importance of preventing further spread of the conflict”, during talks in Abu Dhabi earlier with United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a US summary of the meeting said.

“This is a conflict that could easily metastasise, causing even more insecurity and even more suffering,” Blinken said on Sunday in Qatar, the previous leg of his whistlestop tour.

The war in Gaza started with Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in about 1,140 deaths, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

Israel has responded with relentless bombardment and a ground invasion that have killed at least 22,835 people, most of them women and children, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.

Vowing solidarity with the Palestinians, Yemen’s Houthis have launched more than 100 drone and missile attacks on targets in Israel and the Red Sea, disrupting traffic in the key shipping route.

The United States and 11 allies last week warned of unspecified consequences if the attacks continue.

But the situation is tense for Riyadh as it coincides with attempts to settle a long-running war between the Houthis and a Saudi-led international coalition.

Blinken’s meeting with Prince Mohammed is also a chance to sound out the Saudis on the prospect of an eventual normalisation with Israel, a senior US official said – even if progress appears unlikely while the three-month war continues.

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