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Blinken, MBS meet as Israel ready for ground assault on Gaza

Speculations are that Blinken and MBS discussed possibility of Israel-Hamas conflict extending to wider region.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia on Sunday, the latest stop on a four-day diplomatic trip across the Middle East as the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip worsens ahead of an expected ground invasion by Israel’s military, the New York Times reported quoting sources.

Blinken and President Biden have publicly stressed in the past few days that while they support Israel’s military retaliation against Hamas, Israel must take every precaution to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza, which is home to about 2 million people. Before Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel on October 7, Saudi Arabia and Israel had been working with the United States to normalise relations.

The Israeli Health Ministry said that 377 people wounded during the Hamas attack last week remain hospitalized. Some 99 are in serious condition while another 191 are in moderate condition, it added.

The US Embassy in Jerusalem said that it would start an evacuation of US nationals and their immediate family members by sea on Monday. The evacuation will depart from Haifa, the embassy said, and head for the island of Cyprus, about 170 miles away.

At least one Israeli was killed and three others wounded after fire from Lebanon hit the border community of Shtula in northern Israel, according to the Israeli military and emergency services. The Israeli military said it had returned fire.

The health ministry in Gaza said that it would not respond to Israeli threats to evacuate hospitals. “Our moral position obliges us to continue working,” the ministry’s spokesman, Ashraf Al-Qudra said in a statement. More than 2,300 people have been killed in Gaza in just over a week of Israeli airstrikes — among them 55 whole families, he added.