Blinken visits Middle East, announces aid for Gaza

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has announced aid for Gaza as part of efforts to keep a ceasefire in place between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Blinken arrived in Israel on Tuesday on the first leg of his Middle East tour, and met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu thanked the United States for "firmly supporting Israel's right of self-defense."

Blinken expressed the US commitment to Israel's security.

He also said, "to prevent a return to violence, we have to use the space created to address a larger set of underlying issues and challenges. And that begins with tackling the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza."

Blinken then moved to the West Bank city of Ramallah and met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Blinken said the US will provide 5.5 million dollars in immediate disaster assistance for Gaza.

Washington is believed to be hoping to maintain the ceasefire that began on Friday and de-escalate the tensions by helping improve Gaza's dire economic situation.

Meanwhile, Blinken also said the US would reopen its consulate in Jerusalem, which served as its diplomatic channel to the Palestinians.

Blinken said the reopening is "an important way for our country to engage with and provide support to the Palestinian people." But he did not specify when the consulate will reopen.

His remark made clear that the administration of President Joe Biden will shift away from the extreme pro-Israel stance taken by Biden's predecessor Donald Trump.

The diplomatic mission was closed after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and relocated the US embassy from Tel Aviv.