US exerts pressure on Israel’s Benny Gantz for speedier reconstruction in Gaza

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets Israel's Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the State Department in Washington (Reuters)

Joyce Karam

The National  /  June 3, 2021

Israeli strategy has focused on linking aid and rebuilding to further compromises from Hamas.

Senior US officials put pressure on Israel’s Defence Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday, urging the country to allow for faster reconstruction and delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Mr Gantz held meetings with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Washington.

They called for Israel to speed up the process to allow aid into the war-ravaged Palestinian enclave.

Mr Gantz repeated Israel’s position of “a combination between moving forward with construction and making sure that everything stays secure”.

US and diplomatic sources told The National that Washington and Cairo had agreed on the need to move quickly to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The Israeli government has been dragging its feet, the sources said, and has tried to link the aid to a prisoner release deal with Hamas.

But Israel has so far failed to convince the US and the two issues are being dealt with separately, the sources said.

Egypt has taken a central role in mediating last month’s ceasefire in Gaza and leading efforts for reconstruction.

Abbas Kamel, Egypt’s intelligence chief, held high-level talks in Israel and Gaza this week.

Cairo is also working to promote reconciliation within Palestine between Hamas and Fatah. Delegations from both groups are expected to travel to Egypt next week.

Egypt’s role has been praised by US officials and President Joe Biden has spoken twice with Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah El Sisi since the ceasefire was agreed.

This week, Axios reported that 17 Democratic senators had written to Mr Blinken “urging him to press Israel to allow materials needed for reconstruction and humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip”.

The enclave has been under a blockade since 2007 and Israel has to approve the entry of goods and aid to the area.

In their meetings with Mr Gantz, US officials continued to give priority to Israel’s security.

Mr Blinken and Mr Sullivan stressed the Biden administration’s commitment to strengthening all aspects of the US-Israel security partnership, including support for the Iron Dome.

Israel is seeking $1 billion in replenishment for its missile defence system.

Joyce Karam – Washington correspondent, Washington, DC