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Blinken will travel to Mideast amid US concern over violence

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Egypt, Israel and the West Bank this weekend in his first trip to the Middle East this year, amid an escalation in Israeli-Palestinian violence, U.S. concerns over the direction of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government and ongoing issues with Egypt’s human rights record.

The State Department said Thursday that Blinken would leave Washington on Saturday for stops in Cairo, Jerusalem and Ramallah. The announcement came just hours after an Israeli raid on suspected terrorists in the West Bank city of Jenin that Palestinian officials say killed nine people in the deadliest such incident this year.

After visiting Cairo for talks on Sunday with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Blinken will go to Jerusalem and Ramallah on Monday and Tuesday to see Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, the department said.

“With both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the secretary will underscore the urgent need for the parties to take steps to deescalate tensions in order to put an end to the cycle of violence that has claimed too many innocent lives,” spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

After the raid on a suspected terrorist hideout, Israel’s defense minister directed forces in the occupied West Bank and on Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip to go on heightened alert.

Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have soared since Israel launched the nightly raids in the West Bank last spring, following a spate of Palestinian attacks. The conflict has only intensified this month, as Netanyahu’s government came to office and pledged to take a hard line against the Palestinians.