Blinken in flurry of calls to seek end to Mideast clashes

A ball of fire erupts from a building in Gaza City as diplomats sought to calm the clashes between Israel and the Palestinians
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday held talks with key counterparts influential in the Middle East as the United States seeks to de-escalate deadly clashes between Israel and the Palestinians.

Blinken, who was en route Sunday to Denmark at the start of a week of diplomacy focused on the Arctic, spoke by phone to officials in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and France.

After Iran, Qatar is seen as having the greatest influence on the Hamas militant group.

"The secretary reiterated his call on all parties to de-escalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence, which has claimed the lives of Israeli and Palestinian civilians, including children," State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

Each of Blinken's calls sounded those themes, according to the State Department readouts.

The calls followed the deadliest day yet in the nearly weeklong flareup, as Israeli strikes killed 42 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and as the UN Security Council held a virtual meeting amid global alarm over the conflict.

Blinken's calls also came a day after President Joe Biden called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, to express his "grave concern" over the deteriorating situation and urge both sides to show restraint.

The heaviest exchange of fire in years, sparked by unrest in Jerusalem, has killed 197 in Gaza since Monday, along with 10 in Israel, according to authorities on either side.

Israel's army said Sunday that about 3,000 rockets had been fired from the coastal strip towards Israel -- the highest rate ever recorded.

Rockets have wounded over 280 people, hitting districts that had previously been well beyond the range of Hamas rockets.

Israel said Sunday morning its "continuing wave of strikes" had in the past 24 hours struck over 90 targets across the crowded coastal enclave, where an Israeli strike that destroyed a building housing journalists' offices sparked international outrage.

bbk/jm