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Blinken seeks "way forward" as Israel-Hamas war rages in Gaza, clashes escalate with Hezbollah in Lebanon

Blinken in Israel as war threatens to expand
Blinken in Israel as war threatens to expand 02:01

Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Israel Tuesday, meeting the country's leaders after his latest tour across the region aimed at preventing the ongoing war in Gaza from escalating or spreading beyond the decimated Palestinian enclave's borders. He had his work cut out for him.

Even as Blinken arrived, Israel continued its heavy bombardment of the Hamas-run Palestinian territory, and there was fresh violence along the country's northern border with Lebanon, where Hamas' Hezbollah allies have exchanged fire for months with the Israel Defense Forces.

Blinken said earlier that Israel was experiencing "incredibly challenging times" in the wake of Hamas' bloody Oct. 7 terror attack, which sparked the deadliest war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group to date.  

"There is lots to talk about, in particular about the way forward," Blinken said after a meeting with Israel's President Isaac Herzog. He stressed "the relentless efforts to bring everyone home," referring to the roughly 130 Israelis still believed to be held hostage in Gaza, and later stressed the need for Israel to continue its effort to dismantle Hamas without harming civilians.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Israeli President Isaac Herzog in Tel Aviv, Jan. 9, 2024, during his week-long trip aimed at calming tensions across the Middle East, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza. ABIR SULTAN/POOL/AFP/Getty

"The secretary reaffirmed our support for Israel's right to prevent the terrorist attacks of October 7 from being repeated and stressed the importance of avoiding further civilian harm and protecting civilian infrastructure in Gaza," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said after Blinken met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Blinken arrived in Israel after visiting regional Arab leaders, and he said Monday that Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey had agreed to start planning for reconstruction and future governance in Gaza after the war. But there was still no end in sight on Monday as the top U.S. diplomat visited Israel.

As Blinken sat down with Herzog and Netanyahu, in part to discuss what comes next, a senior Israeli military spokesman warned that the war would "continue through 2024."

Israeli airstrikes continue in Gaza
A seriously injured Palestinian girl is brought to the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Hospital after an Israeli airstrike hit the al-Maghazi Refugee Camp in Deir al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, Jan. 9, 2024. Ashraf Amra/Anadolu/Getty

The Israeli military released video it said showed heavy gun battles raging inside Gaza, as more airstrikes were reported in the territory. Troops using tanks as cover to advance along cratered roads said they had discovered more tunnels in what the IDF described as a hunt for Hamas holdouts.

The IDF also continued its heavy bombardment of Gaza, with intense strikes reported overnight in Khan Younis and Rafah, the biggest cities in the south of the besieged enclave. Both have become increasingly crowded with civilians displaced by the war from their homes further north.

The army acknowledged "expanded ground operations including airstrikes" in the area.

The war also appeared to be escalating beyond Gaza, with violence increasing along Israel's northern border with southern Lebanon, where the powerful Hezbollah group is based. Like Hamas, Hezbollah is backed by Iran, but it is considered a larger, better equipped fighting force than the Palestinian group.

Hezbollah commander killed in Lebanon 02:00

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz claimed responsibility for a drone strike on Monday that killed senior Hezbollah commander Wissam Taweel and a deputy in southern Lebanon. 

Hezbollah had already threatened retaliation, enflaming tension in the conflict already underway along Israel's northern border with Lebanon, when another vehicle was struck by a missile in the same region on Tuesday. It was not immediately clear who was killed in that strike, and Israel didn't immediately claim responsibility.

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