US calls on world to back Israel’s attacks on Gaza as civilian casualties rise | ET REALITY

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Antony J. Blinken is in the midst of his most intense trip as America’s top diplomat, traveling to at least seven Middle Eastern countries in four days to bolster support for Israel as it wages war against Hamas.

During a whirlwind tour, sometimes guarded by security officers in bulletproof vests, the secretary of state delivered several American messages at once. He made clear that the United States fully supports Israel’s counterattack in response to the Hamas cross-border incursion, which killed more than 1,300 people.

He tried to persuade Arab countries to limit their criticism, no easy task since devastating Israeli attacks have killed some 1,900 Palestinians, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

Blinken and his top advisers also spoke with their hosts about efforts to free hostages Hamas was holding in Gaza, including what U.S. officials say may be some U.S. citizens kidnapped in Israel on Saturday. And he sought to ensure that the conflict did not expand to draw in Israel’s other enemies, such as Iran or the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militia.

Blinken landed in Israel on Thursday, less than a week after Hamas gunmen attacked cities in the southern part of the country.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III arrived in Tel Aviv a day later with a similar message of support.

After passing through Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia on Friday, Blinken plans to continue on to the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

Their trips come as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reaches a level of violence not seen in many years and poses countless new challenges for President Biden’s foreign policy, which has focused on defending Ukraine and countering Chinese power.

Blinken’s trips reflected a strain for the Biden administration. By comparing the atrocities committed by Hamas to those of the Islamic State, Biden and Blinken aim to send a clear message that the United States largely supports Israel’s actions in Gaza and that countries in the region should do the same.

“Israel has both the right and the obligation to defend its people,” Blinken said at a news conference in Doha, Qatar. “What Israel is doing is not retaliation. What Israel is doing is defending the lives of its people” and, he added, “trying to make sure this does not happen again.”

“Imagine if this happened in the United States,” he said.

At the same time, Blinken noted, albeit more mildly and in terms that may seem pro forma, some concern about the potential impact on Gaza’s largely impoverished Palestinian population of two million people.

“But at the same time,” he said in Doha, “the way Israel does this is important.” Blinken said he had spoken with Israeli officials about the need to ensure civilians were not harmed.

He then added that Hamas “uses civilians as human shields,” a phrase that suggests an understanding that Israeli attacks will necessarily involve many innocent victims.

Biden administration officials understand that although Israel has received an outpouring of international goodwill this week, criticism will increase among Americans and citizens of other countries as it carries out what it says will be a long military offensive in Gaza.

Still, Blinken noted in his travels that the Biden administration would have a high tolerance for any outcome of Israel’s military response.

During his first stop, at a military base in Tel Aviv, where normally suit-wearing diplomatic security officials are dressed in camouflage military gear, Blinken delivered the message directly to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel: “We will always be at your side. “

“Too often in the past, leaders have been wrong in the face of terrorist attacks against Israel and its people,” Blinken said. “This is – must be – a moment of moral clarity.”

Blinken takes that message to the Arab nations he will visit until Sunday. Of those countries, only the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have explicitly condemned Hamas for its attacks.

from qatar first statement After the attacks he said that Israel was “solely responsible” for the violence against its citizens due to its blockade of Gaza. Saudi Arabia issued a statement making a similar case.

In a statement on Friday, Jordan’s government said the country’s monarch, King Abdullah, had pressed Blinken on the need for humanitarian corridors and aid to Gaza, and “warned about inflicting collective punishment against Gaza residents.” . It did not contain any condemnation of Hamas.

These talks highlight the challenges Blinken faces among Arab nations. But it also belies the private unease many Arab leaders have with Hamas, said Dennis Ross, who served as a Middle East adviser to several presidents and now works at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Blinken’s challenge, he said, “is to remind everyone that Hamas cannot be considered winning. Hamas must be considered to be losing decisively.”

“Everyone I see privately will agree,” Ross said.

Blinken has also pursued two other key goals on his journey.

One is for nations in contact with Hezbollah and Iran to tell them not to join the war. The other is for countries that have influence with Hamas to help secure the release of the approximately 150 hostages taken Saturday. Blinken was accompanied on his trip by Steve Gillen, the US deputy special envoy for hostage affairs, who remained in Israel after his departure.

Biden joined a call Friday with Gillen’s boss, Roger Carstens, the special envoy for hostage affairs, and other senior officials, including national security adviser Jake Sullivan, White House officials said.

Qatar is a crucial interlocutor, making Blinken’s stop there especially sensitive. Officials in Doha talk to Iran, house offices of Hamas leaders and have mediated the release of hostages and prisoners in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

“I am grateful for the urgency that Qatar is bringing to this effort,” Blinken said at a news conference Friday in Doha with Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani.

When asked by a journalist whether his government would continue to allow Hamas to operate in Doha, the subject of harsh criticism from Israel’s supporters, Al Thani called the office useful “as a way to communicate and bring peace and calm to the region.” “. .”

In language clearly directed at Israel, Al Thani also said that Qatar opposes “collective punishment” and “beating and attacking civilians, women and children.”

In Qatar, Blinken did not publicly address the issue of Hamas’ presence in the country, although he did say in general terms that, after Saturday’s “unconscionable” attacks, “there can be no more business as usual with Hamas.”

“You can expect he was probably a lot more direct in private,” Ross said.

At a planned stop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital, Blinken is expected to discuss how the conflict could affect months of negotiations seeking a deal that could officially normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. The agreement would include American concessions to Riyadh, such as a security agreement.

Since the Hamas attacks and the start of Israel’s military campaign against the Palestinians, Saudi officials have adopted a wait-and-see stance before moving forward with normalization talks. John F. Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, told reporters on Friday that the United States still supports an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

“But obviously, these are sovereign nations,” he added. “They can decide for themselves at what pace they are willing to move forward, under what conditions and, certainly, to what extent they want to continue that effort.”

During his visit to Israel, Austin met with Israeli leaders and also reaffirmed US support for their new offensive against Hamas.

Austin arrived from Brussels, where he was attending a meeting of NATO defense ministers. He was able to see firsthand some of the weapons and security aid the Biden administration rushed to Israel after last weekend’s attack. A second shipment of weapons arrived on Friday, Israeli officials said.

Asked about the likelihood of civilian casualties in Gaza as Israeli troops prepare to mount a major ground attack there, Austin said Israel has the right to defend itself. He added that he has worked with Israeli forces over the years, when he was a top army general.

“They are professional, disciplined and focused on the right things,” he told reporters after meeting for nearly two hours with his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, and the Israeli war cabinet.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.

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