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Blinken is making diplomacy efforts in the Middle East before Biden arrives in Israel


President Biden is heading to Israel for meetings tomorrow at a moment when the war between the country and Hamas is raising alarms across the Middle East about the possibility of a wider conflict. But even as Biden is in mid-flight, the trip is being overtaken by spiraling violence on the ground. An explosion at a crowded hospital in Gaza reportedly killed hundreds of Palestinians. Meanwhile, Israel is still reeling from an unprecedented attack by Hamas 11 days ago, and the Israeli military is poised to invade the Gaza Strip. Biden's top diplomat, Antony Blinken, has been crisscrossing the Middle East and will join the president in Tel Aviv tomorrow. Right now Blinken is in Jordan, and so is our diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen. Hey, Michele.


CHANG: OK, let's start with the latest news out of Gaza about this deadly explosion at a hospital there. The two sides are blaming each other for the strike. But can you just talk about how this latest violence has already affected Biden's trip?

KELEMEN: Yeah. Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, have already all decided not to meet President Biden. That's a big blow to this administration and to Secretary Blinken. You know, he was actually at dinner with Jordan's King Abdullah when news broke out. And he immediately came back to the hotel to work on the phones. He's been spending the past week traveling twice to Israel. And in between, he visited six Arab states. And he heard a lot of concern throughout the region about the rising civilian death toll in Gaza. The images from this explosion are already sparking protests throughout the region and undermining a lot of what he and Biden are hoping to do.

CHANG: I imagine. So what have been President Biden's goals for this visit?

KELEMEN: Well, U.S. officials are really worried about the potential for this conflict to spread. The scale of that attack - the Hamas attack really shocked many Israelis. It was a big intelligence failure, and it undercut Israeli deterrence in the region. Now a big concern is Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militants in Lebanon. There's also Iranian-backed proxies throughout the Middle East. President Biden has sent carrier groups to the region. He's been telling the world that America has Israel's back. He wants Arab countries to use their influence with all sorts of actors to try to contain this conflict in Gaza. But, again, these scenes out of Gaza tonight just could further inflame the whole region.

CHANG: And what are those countries in the region asking of the U.S. at the moment?

KELEMEN: Well, up to now, it was mostly to get aid into Gaza. But now it is really to halt the Israeli offensive. Here's the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour.

RIYAD MANSOUR: Immediate ceasefire. He is capable of telling Israel, enough is enough. You have to stop this carnage against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.

KELEMEN: The ambassador was speaking alongside other ambassadors - other Arab ambassadors in a united front outside the security council there. The U.S., up to now, has not been calling for a ceasefire. They've supported Israel's attempt to root out Hamas. But I expect you'll hear some different language coming from the administration in the wake of this attack.

CHANG: Well, in the meantime, what can the U.S. do to get more aid into Gaza?

KELEMEN: It's a work in progress. I mean, Blinken had a full day of talks in Israel, hours and hours with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And about 3 in the morning, he announced that the U.S. and Israel had agreed to develop a plan to get aid in. Agreed to develop a plan is a far cry from what Arab leaders say is really needed now.

CHANG: That is NPR's Michele Kelemen in Jordan. Thank you so much, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF HIPPIE SABOTAGE SONG, "OM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.