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Blinken returns to Israel determined to get more aid into Gaza

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is back in Israel today. He's pressing for more aid to Palestinians in Gaza and a hostage deal.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONY BLINKEN: We're determined to get a cease-fire that brings the hostages home and to get it now. And the only reason that that wouldn't be achieved is because of Hamas.

MARTÍNEZ: He's not the only one ramping up the pressure. Israel is still threatening to move on Rafa in southern Gaza despite U.S. opposition. And Hamas has been releasing videos on some of the hostages, including two Americans. NPR's Michele Kelemen joins us now from Tel Aviv. Michele, how confident is Blinken that a new deal can be reached?

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: He says it's achievable. Israel has put a strong proposal on the table, and it's up to Hamas, he says. But there are a lot of complicating factors, A. Some in the Israel cabinet are threatening to collapse the government if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agrees to a long cease-fire with Hamas. Hamas, as you said, has been stepping up the pressure with those hostage videos. Two Americans were shown in those videos last week, including Keith Siegel. His brother Lee described the video as a window of hope. He spoke to us in Hostage Square (ph) this week.

LEE SIEGEL: It was an opportunity to see, hear and feel him. He broke down during that. And for me, actually, that was a sign of this is not some robot up there, reading something off. Maybe he was forced to say some things, but he wasn't forced to break down.

KELEMEN: Lee says that the U.S. government is making this a priority, but the hostage families are really critical of those in Netanyahu's government who don't want to make this deal, and Blinken met up with some of them who are gathered outside his hotel today.

MARTÍNEZ: Another big diplomatic story is the humanitarian aid to Gaza. What's Blinken saying about that?

KELEMEN: So Blinken went to Jordan yesterday, and he touted these new aid routes that are starting to go from Jordan into a crossing into northern Gaza directly. He also says that a pier the U. S. is building could be up and running in the next week. So he thinks things are moving in the right direction. Though remember, we're almost seven months into this war, and there's also growing pressure from inside the U.S. government to come to a determination that Israel is not letting enough aid in and is not complying with international humanitarian law as required to receive U.S. funding. Israel is pushing back on that. Blinken says there's been progress on aid, but just not enough yet.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, so now let's turn to what's happening in Gaza. There are over 1 million Palestinians sheltering in Rafa, and they're worried about an Israeli ground incursion. Is Blinken bringing a message to Israel on that?

KELEMEN: Yeah, I mean, it's another big reason why he and the Egyptians are pushing for this cease-fire and hostage deal now. Netanyahu has been vowing to deal with the Hamas battalions in Rafa with or without the hostage deal. The U.N. secretary general says a military assault on Rafa would be, in his words, an unbearable escalation. President Biden and Secretary Blinken and many others have been pressing the Israelis for weeks now to come up with a real plan to protect civilians. But Palestinians say they just have nowhere else to go. And as everyone talks about this, Israel does continue to strike homes in Rafa. Each day we learn about families killed in air strikes, even as these preparations for a ground incursion continue.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen in Tel Aviv. Michele, thank you.

KELEMEN: Thank you, A. 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.