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As Israel-Hamas war continues, Secretary Blinken urges humanitarian pauses in Gaza

ADRIAN MA, HOST:

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is crisscrossing the Middle East in the latest round of U.S. diplomatic efforts in the region. On Sunday, he met in Ramallah with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas urged Blinken to call for a cease-fire in Gaza. Secretary Blinken responded that a cease-fire would only benefit the militant group Hamas. But he said the U.S. is urging Israel to pause its assault in certain areas to allow humanitarian aid through.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: This is a process. Israel has raised important questions about how humanitarian pauses would work. We've got to answer those questions. We're working on exactly that.

MA: It's been nearly a month since Israeli airstrikes began in Gaza, strikes that were in response to a cross-border attack by Hamas, which killed roughly 1,400 Israelis. Since then, the Palestinian Health Ministry says the death toll in Gaza has reached 9,700 people. NPR State Department correspondent Michele Kelemen has been following the secretary of state's progress across the region, and she joins me now. Hi, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hi there, Adrian.

MA: Michele, what can you tell us about the secretary's meeting in Ramallah with President Abbas?

KELEMEN: So a State Department official who's traveling with Blinken told reporters that there were a couple of reasons for going there. Blinken wanted to tell Abbas about his conversations with Israeli officials about Jewish settler violence in the West Bank. He's asked Israel to rein that in and to hold to account any Israelis who have attacked and killed Palestinians. He's also pushing the Israeli government to release tax revenue that Israel has withheld from the Palestinian Authority. Now, you know, that's money to pay, for example, for Palestinian police in the West Bank, the people who are trying to keep things stable there. Another big theme for Blinken is the U.S. efforts to get more aid into Gaza, and Blinken is trying to get the region to think more about the future, to keep alive a hope of a Palestinian state one day. Abbas made clear that Gaza has to be part of that.

MA: Michele, so can you expand on that a little more? Like, what else is Blinken suggesting could be in a postwar future for Gaza? Like, what else is he asking of Israel's Middle Eastern neighbors?

KELEMEN: Yeah. I mean, he's making clear that there's no way to go back to pre-October-7 status quo. That is, Hamas can't control the Gaza Strip. He says that would be untenable for Israel. But the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is weak. And officials say his talks with Abbas kind of touched on this issue, but they didn't spend a whole lot of time with this because Abbas and all the other Arab leaders that Blinken met over the weekend say what's really needed now is a cease-fire. They say that this is not about Israel's self-defense. They call this collective punishment against Palestinians, and they're warning that this is generating so much hatred in the region that that hatred could last for generations.

MA: I mean, we've been hearing the word cease-fire, you know, from many protesters this weekend, too. But the Biden administration has stopped short of calling for a cease-fire. So what is Secretary Blinken saying about that?

KELEMEN: Yeah. He's talking about humanitarian pauses for enough time to get more aid into Gaza and longer if they can get hostages out. Remember, there were two American hostages released as part of negotiations mediated by Qatar. A White House official says they're trying to replicate that on a larger scale, but that would require a longer pause in the fighting, if it is at all possible. So that's another big challenge for Blinken.

MA: NPR's Michele Kelemen, thanks for your reporting.

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.

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.