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US top diplomat Blinken visits Israel to discuss Gaza truce, aid

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken boards his airplane prior to departure from Skopje International Airport in Skopje, North Macedonia, November 29, 2023. SAUL LOEB/Pool via REUTERS
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken boards his airplane prior to departure from Skopje International Airport in Skopje, North Macedonia, November 29, 2023. SAUL LOEB/Pool via REUTERS
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken disembarks from his airplane upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, on November 30, 2023. SAUL LOEB/Pool via REUTERS
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken disembarks from his airplane upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, on November 30, 2023. SAUL LOEB/Pool via REUTERS
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken disembarks from his airplane upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, on November 30, 2023. SAUL LOEB/Pool via REUTERS
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken disembarks from his airplane upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, on November 30, 2023. SAUL LOEB/Pool via REUTERS
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a meeting with the Israeli President (not pictured), in Tel Aviv, Israel on November 30, 2023, following the announcement of an extension of the truce between Israel and Hamas just before it was due to expire. SAUL LOEB/Pool via REUTERS
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a meeting with the Israeli President (not pictured), in Tel Aviv, Israel on November 30, 2023, following the announcement of an extension of the truce between Israel and Hamas just before it was due to expire. SAUL LOEB/Pool via REUTERS
Israel's President Isaac Herzog and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken hold a meeting in Tel Aviv, Israel on November 30, 2023, following the announcement of an extension of the truce between Israel and Hamas just before it was due to expire. SAUL LOEB/Pool via REUTERS
Israel's President Isaac Herzog and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken hold a meeting in Tel Aviv, Israel on November 30, 2023, following the announcement of an extension of the truce between Israel and Hamas just before it was due to expire. SAUL LOEB/Pool via REUTERS

TEL AVIV (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived on Thursday in Tel Aviv where he was expected to meet with Israeli leaders to discuss extending Israel's temporary truce with Hamas militants and boosting humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

Blinken, making his third trip to the region since the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, is also expected to visit the occupied West Bank, where he will likely meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a Palestinian official said.

"Looking at the next couple of days, we’ll be focused on...doing what we can to extend the pause so that we continue to get more hostages out and more humanitarian assistance in," Blinken said at a news conference in Brussels on Wednesday.

The truce has brought the first respite to Gaza in seven weeks during which Israel bombed the territory heavily in response to a violent rampage by Hamas gunmen who killed around 1,200 people and took 240 hostages.

Israel has sworn to annihilate Hamas, which rules Gaza. Health authorities in Gaza say Israel's bombardment of the tiny, densely populated territory has so far killed more than 15,000 people, around 40% of them children.

Since the start of the war, Blinken has conducted high-stakes diplomacy with Israeli and Arab leaders to help ensure the conflict does not broaden, push for the release of hostages and facilitate aid into Gaza, where a humanitarian disaster is unfolding.

On Wednesday, 16 more hostages were released by Hamas on the final day of a two-day truce extension. Israel was expected to release 30 more Palestinians from its jails. The swaps are a core component of the truce arrangement.

(This story has been refiled to fix the dateline)

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by Rami Ayyub)