Blinken Meets Arab Ministers in Bid to Calm Outrage Over Gaza Airstrikes

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Anxious Arab leaders appealed publicly and privately on Saturday to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken to rein in Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip, increasing pressure on the Biden administration as it struggles to persuade Israel to reduce civilian casualties and allow in more humanitarian aid.

Civilian deaths have fueled a crescendo of anger in the region and beyond, and an Israeli bombing of a convoy of ambulances drew condemnation from the United Nations, which said “nowhere is safe” in the territory.

The depth of feeling among the Arab nations was evident in a news conference in Amman, Jordan, on Saturday evening where the country’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, bluntly told Mr. Blinken, “Stop this madness.” The Egyptian foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, called for an “immediate cease-fire” in Gaza without conditions.

U.S. officials said Arab leaders had delivered similarly stark messages to Mr. Blinken in private, reflecting concerns that growing public outrage over Israel’s actions could create instability in their own countries. They told Mr. Blinken that they could no longer bear domestic pressure over the high Palestinian death toll, and needed the Americans to act.

Those messages from Arab leaders on Saturday stood in contrast to what some of them privately told their American counterparts earlier in the conflict: that they were open to an aggressive Israeli campaign against Hamas, U.S. officials said.

Mr. Blinken responded to calls for an immediate cease-fire from Arab leaders by reiterating the United States’ position — that Israel had a right to defend itself but needed to minimize civilian casualties.

“It’s our view that a cease-fire now would simply leave Hamas in place and able to regroup and repeat what it did on Oct. 7.” Mr. Blinken said. “No nation — none of us — can accept that.”

It was not immediately clear how the alarm expressed by Arab leaders would affect the Biden administration’s calculations.

Mr. Blinken, who is on a tour of the Middle East, has led diplomatic efforts to persuade Israel to allow the entry of assistance for Gaza civilians trapped and desperate after nearly a month of war. He has also been the leading voice of the Biden administration in urging Israel to agree to a series of pauses in the fighting to facilitate the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza and the exit of foreign nationals from the enclave.

Mr. Netanyahu has rebuffed the idea, saying any pauses should be contingent on the release of all of the more than 240 Israeli hostages taken by Hamas, though U.S. officials said discussions were still underway and expressed hope that the Israelis would reverse their decision.

President Biden, asked by a reporter after emerging from Mass on Saturday in Rehoboth Beach, Del., if there was any progress on getting a humanitarian pause in Gaza, responded, “Yes,” and offered a thumbs up but no further details.

In a statement on Saturday night, a spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing asserted that the bodies of 23 hostages were missing under the rubble in Gaza after Israeli airstrikes, a claim that could not be independently verified. Israeli officials have dismissed such statements as “psychological warfare,” a Hamas attempt to sway Israeli public opinion by stoking fear for the fate of the hostages held in Gaza even as the battle in the enclave continues.

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