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Blinken returns to Israel, working on a plan to protect civilians in Gaza

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is back in Israel and says he's working on ways to protect civilians in Gaza caught in Israel's war with Hamas.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONY BLINKEN: We've provided Israel advice that only the best of friends can offer on how to minimize civilian deaths while still achieving its objectives of finding and finishing Hamas terrorists and their infrastructure of violence. Today, I spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu and other senior officials about concrete steps to do that.

MARTÍNEZ: But the U.S. is not calling for a cease-fire. It is calling, though, for more temporary pauses. Here to talk about this, we're joined now by NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen. Michele, Blinken spoke today in Tel Aviv. What did he have to say?

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Yeah, A, well, he was explaining a bit about why he's not pushing for a cease fire as many would like him to do. He says the Israelis have a right to defend itself - defend themselves from Hamas. Blinken says that during his meetings in Tel Aviv, he was shown some of the footage from that October 7 attack by Hamas that was, in his words, kind of hard to process. He said the brutality of what he called the slaughter that day may have receded for some but not for him. He also says that he's been hit really hard by seeing the images of young Palestinian children who have been pulled from the rubble after Israeli strikes in Gaza. So he says he came to Israel, as you heard there, to talk about some concrete ways to help limit civilian casualties in the war. He said the way that Israel prosecutes this war matters.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, so concrete ways - what do we know about those?

KELEMEN: Yeah, he's talking about kind of limited pauses in the fighting to allow much-needed aid to get into Gaza, to allow Americans and other foreign nationals to get out. He's also been pushing for safe areas for Palestinians. The Israelis have sent out messages to Palestinians, warning them to leave areas when they're expected to have strikes. But really, Palestinians have said there's just nowhere safe to go in Gaza. So setting up safe areas is something that Blinken has been talking about, really, for weeks now. He has a top diplomat in the region who's been working on all this, who's been working on the question of getting aid in. And on that question, by the way, he said that, you know, they've gone from zero trucks to about a hundred today, but that's still far short of what's needed.

MARTÍNEZ: Any word on Americans getting out of Gaza?

KELEMEN: So that Rafah border crossing from Gaza to Egypt has been open to foreign passport holders for a couple of days now. Hundreds of people have left, including some Americans, but this is really going to take a few days more at least. The State Department has been in touch with about 400 Americans and their family members. That's a total of about a thousand people who want to leave Gaza. And they've been advising people on when to show up to the border. And these lists have been going back and forth between Egypt, Israel and authorities in Gaza on who can get out. So it's all pretty complicated.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Now, the Biden administration has been worried that this conflict could spread. What is Antony Blinken doing about that?

KELEMEN: Yeah. One big focus is to try to maintain stability in the West Bank. But he's been really concerned about Israeli settler attacks on Palestinians there. He's also urging Iran and Iran-backed groups like Hezbollah to stay out of this fight. Again, that's a concern he's been raising from the start. And he says this is really going to be a big theme of his meetings tomorrow in Amman, Jordan, with regional foreign ministers. They need to talk about how to contain this conflict.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's NPR's Michele Kelemen. Michele, thanks.

KELEMEN: Thank you. 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.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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.