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Blinken’s diplomatic mission in Jordan: U.S. seeks to navigate Israel-Hamas conflict amidst calls for cease-fire

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In the ongoing efforts to manage the Israel-Hamas conflict, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held meetings with Middle East leaders in Jordan, with a particular focus on the crisis’s humanitarian aspect.

Arab leaders, deeply concerned about the significant loss of Palestinian civilian lives during the Israel-Hamas war, urged an immediate cease-fire. However, Secretary Blinken cautioned against this approach during discussions in Amman, Jordan, on Saturday, citing the potential for such a move to fuel more violence by the militant group.

Following a series of talks with diplomats from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and a senior Palestinian official, Blinken, along with his counterparts from Jordan and Egypt, addressed the press. They emphasized their shared commitment to safeguarding civilians in Gaza and enhancing the delivery of aid to the besieged region.

Despite the differences in their messages, the joint news conference between Arab ministers and Israel’s closest ally provided a stark contrast to Blinken’s earlier meetings in Tel Aviv with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, where he spoke to reporters alone.

Blinken initiated his trip in Israel on Friday, marking his third visit since the outbreak of the conflict following Hamas’ violent attacks on October 7, resulting in hundreds of casualties. He reiterated the United States’ support for Israel’s right to self-defense but stressed the need for a “humanitarian pause” to facilitate aid delivery to Palestinian civilians, given the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Upon leaving a mass service at St. Edmond Roman Catholic Church in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, on Saturday evening, President Biden, when asked by a reporter, signaled optimism by offering a thumbs-up and a “yes” regarding progress towards a “humanitarian pause” in the Gaza conflict.

The Arab ministers persistently called for an immediate end to the fighting and criticized Israel’s war tactics. Egypt’s Sameh Shoukry expressed, “We cannot accept the justification as considered the right of self-defense, collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza. This cannot be a legitimate self-defense at all.”

Secretary Blinken maintained the U.S. stance that a cease-fire would undermine Israel’s right and responsibility to protect its citizens following Hamas’ surprise attack on southern Israel in October. He asserted the unwavering commitment of the Biden administration to Israel’s right to self-defense, stating, “It is our view now that a cease-fire would simply leave Hamas in place, able to regroup and repeat what it did.”

While the U.S. supports “humanitarian pauses” in Israel’s operations to facilitate improved aid distribution and the evacuation of foreign nationals from Gaza to Egypt, Blinken’s counterparts from Jordan and Egypt believed these measures fell short of the necessary response.

In contrast to Blinken’s main agenda, which included discussing Gaza’s postwar future, Arab officials emphasized that the immediate priorities were ending the violence and ensuring consistent humanitarian aid. Jordan’s Ayman al-Safadi noted, “What happens next? How can we even entertain what will happen next? We don’t have all the variables to even start thinking about that. We need to get our priorities straight.”

Blinken’s first meeting in Jordan was with Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, Najib Mikati, whose country is grappling with severe economic and political challenges and is home to Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed group hostile to Israel. The United States expressed concerns that Hezbollah may increase its involvement in the Israel-Hamas conflict, given its recent rocket and cross-border attacks on northern Israel.

Blinken also met with the foreign minister of Qatar, a country that has played a crucial role in negotiating the release of hostages held by Hamas and facilitating the movement of foreign citizens from Gaza to Egypt.

During his stay in Amman, Blinken will meet with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, whose country has recalled its ambassador to Israel and asked Israel’s envoy not to return until the Gaza crisis is resolved. The State Department announced that Blinken would travel to Turkey on Sunday to meet with President Recep Tayyep Erdogan and other top officials on Monday. Turkey followed Jordan’s lead in recalling its ambassador to Israel on Saturday.

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