Blinken to reassert in Israel its right to act but need to minimize civilian casualties

FILE PHOTO: Blinken testifes at a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington

By Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Israel on Friday to voice solidarity with its retaliation against Hamas in Gaza but also to reassert the need to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties, his spokesperson said on Wednesday.

Blinken's trip, which includes a stop in Jordan, is his second to the Middle East in less than a month.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Blinken will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior officials and receive an update on Israel's military objectives and its plans to achieve those goals.

"He will reiterate U.S. support for Israel’s right to defend itself in accordance with international humanitarian law, and discuss the need to take all precautions to minimize civilian casualties, as well as our work to deliver humanitarian assistance," Miller told reporters.

Israel sent ground forces into Hamas-ruled Gaza late last week after weeks of air and artillery strikes to retaliate for the surprise Hamas attack in which Israel says 1,400 people, mostly civilians, were killed and 240 were taken hostage.

The Gaza health ministry says at least 8,796 Palestinians in the narrow coastal enclave, including 3,648 children, have been killed by Israeli strikes since Oct. 7.

Blinken, who as secretary of state is President Joe Biden's top diplomat, will also discuss options on who will run the densely populated enclave if and when Hamas, an Islamist Palestinian militant group, is defeated.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said on Wednesday that Washington did not believe Hamas could be involved in governing Gaza when the war is over.

In Jordan, Blinken will underscore the importance of protecting civilian lives and reiterate a U.S. commitment to ensure Palestinians are not forcibly displaced out of Gaza, a growing concern of the Arab world, Miller said.

He will pursue talks led by Egypt and Qatar on securing the release of more than 200 hostages held by Hamas, Miller said.

Turkish diplomatic sources said Blinken would also visit Turkey but Miller did not confirm the additional stop. "We will make further announcements as they're available in the coming days," he added.

Blinken was set to depart Washington on Thursday.

His last trip to the region that kicked off on Oct. 11 was initially announced as a visit to Israel and Jordan but was later expanded to include five more Arab countries, ending up being his most extensive yet trip to the region.

Additional stops were often announced within short notice during the week-long whirlwind journey.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Jasper Ward and Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Howard Goller)