Thursday, February 22, 2024

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

Civilian deaths have sparked anger in the region and beyond, and an Israeli bombing of a convoy of ambulances has drawn condemnation from the United Nations, which stated that “nowhere is safe” in the territory.

The depth of emotion among Arab nations was evident during a news conference in Amman, Jordan, on Saturday evening. Ayman Safadi, the country’s foreign minister, 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 revealed that Arab leaders had conveyed similar messages to Mr. Blinken in private. They are concerned that the growing public outrage over Israel’s actions could lead to instability in their own countries. Arab leaders told Mr. Blinken that they could no longer endure domestic pressure due to the high number of Palestinian casualties and needed the Americans to take action.

These messages from Arab leaders on Saturday contrasted with what some of them had privately expressed to their American counterparts earlier in the conflict. U.S. officials said that privately, they were open to an aggressive Israeli campaign against Hamas.

Mr. Blinken responded to calls for an immediate cease-fire from Arab leaders by reaffirming the United States’ position. He stated that while Israel had the right to defend itself, it needed to minimize civilian casualties.

“It is our belief that a cease-fire now would only leave Hamas in place, enabling them to regroup and repeat what they did on Oct. 7,” said Mr. Blinken. “No nation, none of us, can accept that.”

The impact of the alarm expressed by Arab leaders on the Biden administration’s decision-making process is not immediately clear.

Mr. Blinken, who is currently touring the Middle East, has led diplomatic efforts to persuade Israel to allow assistance for Gaza civilians who have been trapped and desperate for nearly a month. He has also been the leading voice of the Biden administration in urging Israel to agree to temporary pauses in the fighting to facilitate the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza and the evacuation of foreign nationals from the area.

Mr. Netanyahu has rejected the idea, stating that any pauses should be contingent on the release of all more than 240 Israeli hostages held by Hamas. However, U.S. officials said discussions are still ongoing, and they expressed hope that the Israelis would reverse their decision.

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

In a statement on Saturday night, a spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing claimed that the bodies of 23 hostages were missing under the rubble in Gaza after Israeli airstrikes. This claim could not be independently verified. Israeli officials have dismissed such statements as “psychological warfare,” arguing it is an attempt by Hamas to influence Israeli public opinion by instilling fear for the fate of the hostages held in Gaza amidst the ongoing conflict.

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