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Blinken is in Israel aiming to negotiate a temporary cease-fire


U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is visiting Israel again today after stops in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.


Israel's response to Hamas in Gaza has killed tens of thousands of people, and now hunger is killing people, too. The United Nations and independent experts say famine is imminent in Gaza, where people have already starved to death. Here's Blinken last night in Cairo.


ANTONY BLINKEN: Children should not be dying of malnutrition in Gaza - or anywhere else, for that matter. A hundred percent of the population of Gaza is experiencing severe levels of acute food insecurity. We cannot, we must not allow that to continue.

MARTIN: We're joined now by NPR international correspondent Aya Batrawy in Dubai. Aya, good morning.

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So we heard from Mr. Blinken saying children shouldn't be dying of hunger in Gaza, but as we just said, doctors and aid workers say many already have. Is that the focus of this trip? And I want to mention that this is Mr. Blinken's sixth visit since the October 7 attacks by Hamas that killed, you know, 1,200 people and hostages were taken and so forth. This is his sixth visit. Is that the focus of this trip?

BATRAWY: Well, I mean, with each trip, he's come with a new message. And the message this time does highlight this rift that's growing between the Biden administration and Israel's government, which is led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Now, what the White House is doing is it's throwing its weight behind cease-fire talks being mediated by Qatar and Egypt for Hamas to release some of the hostages taken on October 7 in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian captives and to flood Gaza with aid to stave off looming famine there. Now, Biden says he hopes the six-week truce could then be extended, so basically wind down this war that's decimated Gaza and killed more than 32,000 people there, according to the health ministry.

But Israel's government says Hamas operates in Rafah - that's the southern town where most of Gaza's population have been displaced - and they've planned a ground operation there. So another point of Blinken's message is to say this would be a mistake. And he says this is something the U.S. cannot support.

MARTIN: Aya, what about those cease-fire talks? Where do they stand now?

BATRAWY: Blinken said yesterday in Cairo there are still serious gaps between Hamas and Israel on the terms of this truce, and the heads of the CIA, Egyptian and Israeli intelligence are supposed to be meeting again today in Qatar to talk about that. Now, Israel says it launched a raid on a key hospital in Gaza City this week, where Hamas had regrouped, to pressure those talks. But regardless, Blinken says a cease-fire cannot be the only way to get aid in to people who need it in Gaza. And he said, quote, "Israel needs to do more."

MARTIN: So the U.S. continues to ramp up the pressure. What has Israel's response been to U.S. calls to do more?

BATRAWY: Israel says it is allowing in aid, but it's very limited because they don't want Hamas to benefit from it. Aid groups, though, say it is not nearly enough to feed the population. And now the White House is urging Israel to loosen its border controls to get that aid that's sitting on trucks and in warehouses to people starving to death just a few miles away across the border.

MARTIN: And, Aya, before we let you go, what can you tell us about the latest on the situation on the ground now in Gaza?

BATRAWY: I mean, look. We've seen images of these desperate crowds grabbing aid off trucks - you know, bags of flour - and children just wasting away in hospitals, literally dying of hunger, especially in the north of Gaza. The U.N. is looking for better ways to distribute that aid with the help of local police in Gaza and community leaders - or what they're known as clans or popular committees. Now, these clans say they're willing to help, but they don't intend to replace Hamas on the ground and have denounced Israel. But this week, we saw a string of Israeli attacks on these guys, from clan members to senior police officers whose job it is to oversee the distribution in the north. Israel says the police are an arm of Hamas, and they didn't respond to our request for comment on those airstrikes.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Aya Batrawy in Dubai. Aya, thank you.

BATRAWY: Thanks, Michel. 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.
Aya Batrawy
Aya Batraway is an NPR International Correspondent based in Dubai. She joined in 2022 from the Associated Press, where she was an editor and reporter for over 11 years.