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Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Tel Aviv to show support for Israel

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Hamas continues to launch rocket salvos toward Israel, and Israel's bombardment of the Gaza Strip continues. Amid all this, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Tel Aviv. He says he is there to show the Biden administration's support for Israel. This after Hamas fighters stormed the south of the country last weekend in a massive assault, killing 1,300 people and taking hostages back to their base in Gaza. Blinken and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with reporters this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONY BLINKEN: The message that I bring to Israel is this - you may be strong enough on your own to defend yourself, but as long as America exists, you will never, ever have to. We will always be there by your side.

MARTIN: NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with Blinken, and she joins us now from Tel Aviv. Michele, hello.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hi there, Michel.

MARTIN: So could you just give us a synopsis of what did Secretary Blinken and the prime minister have to say?

KELEMEN: Well, both men were quite somber. Prime Minister Netanyahu just was describing the atrocities carried out by Hamas. He called them barbarians. He said this is a time for moral clarity. And Secretary Blinken really echoed a lot of that. He said it's been very tough for him personally to see some of these images and hear stories about the atrocities, about whole families killed, parents killed in front of their children, children killed in front of their parents. He was really here to show solidarity with the Israeli people at this difficult moment.

MARTIN: So beyond this demonstration of U.S. solidarity, does the secretary - does Secretary Blinken have any concrete diplomatic goals on this trip?

KELEMEN: Well, there are some things, you know, he wanted to hear directly from Israeli officials about what more they need. The U.S. has been sending weapons to replenish the Iron Dome system. It's beefing up its military presence in the region. The other message is really to countries in the region and to other groups to stay out of this conflict. U.S. diplomacy is really focused on keeping this contained so that it doesn't draw in more regional players. The U.S. is asking all of its partners in this region to use any influence they have with what one official called the trifecta - that is Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. The message to those latter two is don't take advantage of this situation.

MARTIN: So you know, we do want to note that Americans are there. What do we know about that, Americans who have been killed or are in danger in this violence now?

KELEMEN: Yeah, well, Secretary Blinken gave a new number. He said that 25 Americans were killed. And that's mostly from this initial attack by Hamas. There were also Americans believed to have been kidnapped by Hamas and taken into Gaza. Blinken came with some of his top aides, including the deputy head of the administration's hostage affairs office. The administration is urging countries in the region, particularly Qatar, to send messages to Hamas...

MARTIN: OK.

KELEMEN: ...To release those hostages. There are also Americans living in Gaza. And the U.S. has been talking to Egypt and Israel about opening up that border between Gaza and Egypt so that Palestinian Americans can get out.

MARTIN: And, as briefly as you can, does the secretary indicate that he will be talking to Israel about how to protect civilians during this offensive in Gaza? As we said, more than 1,300 people there have already died.

KELEMEN: Yeah, he said that Israel has a right to defend itself, but he points out how it does this matters. And he says democracies like the U.S. and Israel do try to avoid civilian casualties, unlike Hamas, which has really put all Palestinians at risk.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Michele Kelemen with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. You can hear that she's in the press room there in Tel Aviv. Michele, thank you.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF FELBM'S "BIRKACH") 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.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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.
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