Secretary of State Antony Blinken embraced survivors of the deadly attacks by Hamas in Israel during his visit to Tel Aviv on Thursday, as the top US diplomat sought to demonstrate the depth of the Biden administration’s commitment in the wake of the massacre.
(Bloomberg) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken embraced survivors of the deadly attacks by Hamas in Israel during his visit to Tel Aviv on Thursday, as the top US diplomat sought to demonstrate the depth of the Biden administration’s commitment in the wake of the massacre.
“We lost a lot of our friends, close friends, lots of family members – there are a lot of people that we know that were kidnapped and are now in Gaza,” Lior Gelbaum told Blinken during his visit to a donation center.
“I’m 24, and I never imagined something like this would happen, ever,” she said of attacks at a music festival in an exchange that was captured by television cameras and ended with Blinken and Gelbaum embracing.
It was an emotional interaction for Blinken, who was in Tel Aviv to drive home President Joe Biden’s promise to stand by Israel as it strikes back at Hamas militants and also met with the families of US hostages seized by Hamas. Earlier Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed Blinken photographs of charred remains and dead infants who officials said were killed by Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist group by the US and EU. Israel’s government also released the graphic images on its official social media account.
Blinken’s visit to Israel is the first leg of a trip that will see him travel to other regional allies in a bid to keep Israel’s war with Hamas from escalating into a regional conflict after more than 1,000 people already have been killed on each side. He is also bringing the message that the US isn’t giving up on a push for Israel and Saudi Arabia to normalize ties, a development that the US hopes could serve as the impetus for further such agreements in the region.
That push could become much harder if Israel intensifies its campaign against Hamas with a ground invasion of Gaza as expected in the coming days. Already, Israel has dropped more than 6,000 bombs on the Gaza Strip, according to the Israeli Air Force, leveling buildings and leaving scenes of devastation.
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Blinken invoked his own Jewish ancestry during a stop at Israel’s defense ministry, recalling how his grandfather had fled pogroms in Russia and his stepfather survived a concentration camp.
“I understand on a personal level the harrowing echoes that Hamas’ massacres carry for Israeli Jews and, indeed, for Jews everywhere,” Blinken said.
For more on the Israel-Hamas war, click here.
Gelbaum’s comments on her missing friends also highlighted another difficult development, both for Israel and for the US: the estimated 150 hostages who have been taken across the border into the Gaza Strip. Their plight will complicate Israel’s response, and has shaped the Biden administration’s approach given that American citizens are among the captured.
Blinken also met with families of US hostages to assure them the US is doing what it can to secure their freedom. Joining him was Steven Gillen, a State Department deputy envoy for hostage affairs who will stay behind to press for their release. Blinken was also set to travel to Qatar, where he’ll meet with officials who can negotiate with Hamas on behalf of Israel and the US.
“The United States is one of more than 30 countries where family members, friends, entire communities are being forced to go through this wrenching experience — because of Hamas’ disdain for human life and basic human dignity,” Blinken said. “We’re doing everything we can to secure the release of the hostages.”
–With assistance from Courtney McBride.
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