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Blinken meets Jordanian and Qatari leaders in push to keep Gaza war from spreading

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, shakes hands with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, during Blinken's week-long trip aimed at calming tensions across the Middle East, at Lusail Palace in Lusail, Qatar, on Sunday.
Evelyn Hockstein
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AP
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, shakes hands with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, during Blinken's week-long trip aimed at calming tensions across the Middle East, at Lusail Palace in Lusail, Qatar, on Sunday.

Updated January 7, 2024 at 8:48 PM ET

DOHA, Qatar — On another urgent diplomatic mission to the Middle East, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Sunday with Arab partners to press for their help in tamping down resurgent fears that Israel's three-month war against Hamas in Gaza could spread.

In discussions with Qatar's emir and Jordan's king, Blinken spoke of the need for Israel to adjust its military operations to reduce civilian casualties and significantly boost the amount of humanitarian aid reaching Gaza, while stressing the importance of preparing detailed plans for the post-conflict future of the Palestinian territory, which has been decimated by Israeli bombardments.

The mission — that will also take him to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the West Bank and Egypt before he returns to Washington — is Blinken's fourth to the region since the war began.

After a day of talks with Turkish and Greek leaders in Istanbul and Crete, Blinken met with Jordan's King Abdullah II and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi in Amman before traveling to Doha for talks with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani to seek buy-in for U.S. efforts to tamp down resurgent fears that the war could engulf the region, ramp up aid to Gaza and prepare for an eventual end of hostilities.

"This is a conflict that could easily metastasize, causing even more insecurity and even more suffering," Blinken told reporters during a joint news conference with Sheikh Mohammed. "So from day one, among other priorities, we have been intensely focused on working to prevent the conflict from spreading."

Blinken said it is has been a major focus of his discussion with all of the leaders he has met with in recent days. "We share a commitment to ensure that the conflict does not expand," he said.

He said they also have discussed what each country can do once the conflict is over "to provide the assurances and the incentives required to build a more secure and more stable, more peaceful future for the region."

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, visits a World Food Program regional warehouse in Amman, Jordan, on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024.
Evelyn Hockstein / Pool photo via AP
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Pool photo via AP
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, visits a World Food Program regional warehouse in Amman, Jordan, on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024.

"And my takeaway from the discussion so far, including here with our friends in Qatar, is that our partners are willing to have these difficult conversations and to make hard decisions. All of us feel a stake in forging the way forward."

Jordan and other Arab states have been highly critical of Israel's actions and have eschewed public support for long-term planning, arguing that the fighting must end before such discussions can begin. They have been demanding a cease-fire since mid-October as civilian casualties began to skyrocket.

After his talks with Blinken, Sheikh Mohammed called for an immediate cease-fire, saying the constant images of death and destruction in Gaza are de-sensitizing people to the horrors of what is happening.

"This is a big test for our humanity," he said. "We are looking for a sustainable future, however the focus is now on stopping the fighting."

King Abdullah "warned of the catastrophic repercussions" of the war in Gaza while calling on the U.S. to press for an immediate cease-fire, a statement from the Royal Court said.

Israel has refused to agree to a cease-fire and the U.S. has instead called for specified temporary "humanitarian pauses" to allow aid to get in and people to get to safety.

In Amman, Blinken also toured the World Food Program's regional coordination warehouse, where trucks are being packed with aid to be delivered to Gaza through both the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings.

He commended the work of the WFP and other U.N. agencies as well as the government of Jordan to get assistance into Gaza.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi in Amman, Jordan, on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024.
Evelyn Hockstein / AP
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AP
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi in Amman, Jordan, on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024.

"The efforts right here to collect and distribute food to people in need are absolutely essential," Blinken said. "The United States has worked from day one to open access routes into Gaza."

"We continue to work on that every single day, not only to open them but to multiply them, to maximize them and to try to get more assistance, more effectively," he said. "We're determined to do everything we possibly can to ameliorate the situation for the men, women and children in Gaza."

The U.S. has been pressing Israel for weeks to let greater amounts of food, water, fuel, medicine and other supplies into Gaza, and the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution on Dec. 22 calling for an immediate increase in deliveries. Three weeks ago, Israel opened Kerem Shalom, adding a second entry point for aid into Gaza after Rafah.

Still, the rate of trucks entering has not risen significantly. This week, an average of around 120 trucks a day entered through Rafah and Kerem Shalom, according to U.N. figures, far below the 500 trucks of goods going in daily before the war and far below what aid groups say is needed.

Almost the entire population of 2.3 million depends on the trucks coming across the border for their survival. One in four Palestinians in Gaza is starving, and the rest face crisis levels of hunger, according to the U.N.

More than 85% of people in Gaza have been driven from their homes by Israeli bombardment and ground offensives. Most live in U.N. shelters crowded beyond their capacity, in tent camps that have been sprung up, or on the streets.

In Greece on Saturday, Blinken said his trip would be dominated by "not necessarily easy conversations" with allies and partners about what they are willing to do "to build durable peace and security."

Blinken's visit comes as developments in Lebanon, northern Israel, the Red Sea and Iraq have put intense strains on what had been a modestly successful U.S. push to prevent a regional conflagration since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, and as international criticism of Israel's military operation mounts.

"These are not necessarily easy conversations," he said in Greece. "There are different perspectives, different needs, different requirements, but it is vital that we engage in this diplomacy now both for the sake of Gaza itself and more broadly the sake of the future for Israelis and Palestinians and for the region as a whole."

He said his priorities are protecting civilians — "far too many Palestinians have been killed" — getting more humanitarian aid into Gaza, ensuring Hamas cannot strike again, and developing a framework for Palestinian-led governance in the territory and "a Palestinian state with security assurances or Israel."

Hours before Blinken's meetings on Saturday, Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah militia fired dozens of rockets at northern Israel and said the barrage was an initial response to the targeted killing, presumably by Israel, of a top leader from the allied Hamas group in Lebanon's capital this past week. Israel responded in what became one of the heaviest days of cross-border fighting in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, stepped-up attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea by Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels have disrupted international trade and led to increased efforts by the U.S. and its allies to patrol the vital commercial waterway and respond to threats. The coalition of countries issued what amounted to a final warning to the Houthis on Wednesday to cease their attacks on vessels or face potential targeted military action. Since Dec. 19, the militants have carried out at least two dozen attacks in response to the Israel-Hamas war.

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