Amman — Arab leaders decrying the deaths of thousands of Palestinian civilianspushed 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. He reiterated the United States’ support for Israel, saying that the country the right to defend itself. But he said a “ 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.
While in Amman, Blinken will see Jordan’s King Abdullah II, whose country has recalled its ambassador to Israel and told Israel’s envoy not to return to Jordan until the Gaza crisis was over. On Sunday, Blinken will travel Turkey meetings with President Recep Tayyep Erdogan and other top officials on Monday, the State Department said. Turkey on Saturday followed Jordan’s lead and announced it had recalled its ambassador to Israel.
Fighting intensifies in Gaza City
The family home of, in the Shati refugee camp on the northern edge of Gaza City, was hit Saturday morning by an airstrike, according to the Hamas-run media office in Gaza. It had no immediate details on damage or casualties and there was no immediate comment.
Senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad told The Associated Press that the house was being used by Haniyeh’s two sons.
The home is located in a narrow alley in the refugee camp, which has become a crowded neighborhood of Gaza City over the generations. Haniyeh, a former aide to Hamas’ founder, Ahmed Yassin, who was killed in an Israeli airstrike in 2004, has been in exile since 2019.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians remain in the city and across northern Gaza.
Israel says Hamas has extensive military infrastructure in the city,bunkers and command centers. It says its strikes target Hamas, and the militants endanger civilians by operating among them.
The city is now encircled by Israeli forces, who have been urging civilians to head south to avoid getting caught up in the fighting.
Despite those warnings, Israel has continued striking in the south, saying it is targeting Hamas members, but bombs are also killing entire families.
Raed Mattar, who was sheltering in a school in the southern town of Khan Younis after fleeing the north early in the war, said Saturday that he regularly heard explosions, apparently from airstrikes.
“People never sleep,” he said. “The sound of explosions never stops.”
“Gaza, a problem largely of Israel’s own making”
About 1.5 million people in Gaza, or 70% of the population, have fled their homes, according to the U.N.The Israeli military said ground forceswith an armored and engineering corps working to remove booby traps from buildings.
Elsewhere, skirmishes along Israel’s northern border continued Saturday morning as the Israeli military said it had struck militant cells in Lebanon trying to fire at Israel, as well as a Hezbollah observation post.
Throughout the war, Israel and Hezbollah, an ally of Hamas, have traded fire almost daily along the Lebanese border, raising fears of a new front opening there.
In addition to aid distribution, allowing foreigners out and the release of hostages, Blinken is looking to get Jordan and other Arab states to begin to think about the future of Gaza if and when Israel succeeds in wresting control from Hamas.
Arab leaders have thus far resisted American suggestions that they play a larger role in crisis, expressing outrage at the civilian toll of the Israeli military operations but believing Gaza to be a problem largely of Israel’s own making.
More than, including more than 3,600 Palestinian children, the Gaza Health Ministry said, without providing a breakdown between civilians and fighters.
More than 1,400 people have died on the Israeli side, mainly civilians killed during Hamas’ initial attack. Rocket fire by Gaza militants into Israel persists, disrupting life for millions of people and forcing an estimated 250,000 to evacuate. Most rockets are intercepted.
Twenty-four Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza since the start of the ground operation.
The overall toll is likely to rise dramatically as the assault on densely built-up Gaza City continues.
More than 386 Palestinian dual nationals and wounded exited Gaza into Egypt on Friday, according to Wael Abou Omar, the Hamas spokesperson for the Rafah border crossing. That brings the total who have gotten out since Wednesday to 1,115.