Blinken seeks to contain Israel-Hamas war; meets with Middle East leaders in Jordan

Amman — Arab leaders decrying the deaths of thousands of Palestinian civilians in the Israel-Hamas war pushed for an immediate cease-fire even as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned in meetings in Amman, Jordan, on Saturday that such a move would be counterproductive and could encourage more violence by the militant group.

After an afternoon of talks with Egyptian, Jordanian, Saudi, Qatari and Emirati diplomats and a senior Palestinian official, Blinken stood side by side at a line of podiums with his counterparts from Jordan and Egypt to discuss what he said was their shared desire to protect civilians in Gaza and improve aid flows to the besieged territory.

The dissonance in the messages was evident. Nonetheless, the joint news conference between ministers from the Arab world and the top diplomat from Israel’s closest ally and numerous photo opportunities contrasted with Blinken’s time in Tel Aviv on Friday, when Blinken met alone with reporters after closed-door talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Blinken started his trip on Friday with a stop in Israel. This is his third trip to Israel since the war broke out after Hamas’ bloody terror attacks on Oct. 7 left hundreds dead. He reiterated the United States’ support for Israel, saying that the country the right to defend itself. But he said a “humanitarian pause” was needed to boost aid deliveries to Palestinian civilians amid growing alarm over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

On Saturday evening, as he was leaving a mass service at St. Edmond Roman Catholic Church in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, President Biden responded “yes,” and offered a thumbs up, when asked by a reporter if there had been any progress in getting a “humanitarian pause” in the fighting in Gaza.

The Arab ministers on Saturday repeatedly called for the fighting to stop now and condemned Israel’s war tactics.

“We cannot accept the justification as considered as the right of self-defense, collective punishment” of Palestinians in Gaza, Egypt’s Sameh Shoukry said. “This cannot be a legitimate self-defense at all.”

Blinken held firm to the U.S. position that a cease-fire would harm Israel’s right and obligation to defend its citizens after the surprise attack by Hamas on Oct. 7 across southern Israel. He said the Biden administration’s commitment to Israel’s right to self-defense remains unwavering.

“It is our view now that a cease-fire would simply leave Hamas in place, able to regroup and repeat what it did,” Blinken said.

He said the U.S. supports “humanitarian pauses” in Israel’s operations to allow for improved aid flows — an appeal Netanyahu pointedly rejected the day before — and increased transit of foreign nationals out of Gaza and into Egypt. Blinken’s colleagues from Jordan and Egypt did not think that went far enough.

In another direct contrast, Arab officials said it was far too soon to discuss one of Blinken’s main agenda items, Gaza’s postwar future. Stopping the killing and restoring steady humanitarian aid are immediate that must be addressed first, they said.

“What happens next? How can we even entertain what will happen next?” said Jordan’s Ayman al-Safadi. “We don’t have all the variables to even start thinking about that.” He added, “We need to get our priorities straight.”

Blinken’s first meeting in Jordan was with Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, Najib Mikati, whose economically and politically ravaged country is home to Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed force that is hostile to Israel. The United States has grave concerns that Hezbollah, which has stepped up rocket and cross-border attacks on northern Israel, will take a more active role in the Israel-Hamas war.

Blinken then met with the foreign minister of Qatar, whose country has emerged as the most influential interlocutor with Hamas. Qatar has been key to negotiating the limited release of hostages held by Hamas as well as persuading Hamas to allow foreign citizens to leave Gaza and cross into Egypt.

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