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Secretary of State Blinken reaffirms U.S. support for Israel following Hamas attacks

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Israel continues to strike the Gaza Strip in response to the Hamas attack last weekend. The U.S. has sent Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the region. He's been in Tel Aviv today pledging support from the U.S. for Israel at a time when the nation is still reeling and mourning more than 1,300 lost lives.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: We encountered a nation knit together by grief but also a nation united in resolve. The United States shares that resolve. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Israel.

CHANG: Meanwhile, more than 1,300 people in Gaza have been killed by Israeli airstrikes according to officials there. NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with the secretary of state and joins us now. Hi, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So tell us a little more about this visit. What kind of meetings, what kind of events has Blinken been involved in since arriving this morning?

KELEMEN: Well, he went straight into meetings at the Defense Ministry for most of the day here in Tel Aviv. And during talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he was shown some of the videos and pictures that he says were just overwhelming - some of the many victims of the Hamas attack. He also visited a donation center and had a really emotional encounter with a 24-year-old U.S.-Israeli dual citizen. Her name is Lior Gelbaum. She survived that dance party that was attacked on the morning of October 7.

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LIOR GELBAUM: I never imagined something like this would happen ever in a dance and a music festival. We managed to escape, but there are a lot of friends that didn't.

KELEMEN: And as she spoke, she described how she and her boyfriend survived. She called it a miracle. Hundreds of others around her were singing the national anthem at the time while she was talking to Secretary Blinken. And she said she lost a lot of friends, and some are now held captive in Gaza. She said that should be the priority - to help with those held captive. Blinken, later at a news conference, said that he brought one of the top officials from the Hostage Affairs office to Tel Aviv and that he's going to stay behind in Israel to work with families of Americans who are believed to be held by Hamas.

CHANG: And tell us more. What are some of the diplomatic goals that Blinken has for this visit in Israel?

KELEMEN: Well, he wanted to hear directly on what the needs are in Israel to make sure that the Israeli government has what it needs as it fights Hamas. He's also trying to open up some humanitarian aid routes into Gaza and remind Israelis that there are - there is international law and humanitarian law and that the democracies, like the U.S. and Israel, have to act in a way that protects civilians unlike Hamas, he says, which doesn't care about civilians. There's another problem that is that there are Americans, Palestinian Americans, who are trapped in Gaza, and he's looking for some corridors to open up, probably into Egypt, but there's a lot of tricky diplomacy with both Egypt and Israel on that.

CHANG: And I understand that Tel Aviv is not Blinken's only stop, right? What's on the rest of his itinerary? And what do you think that says about what he's trying to do on this trip?

KELEMEN: Well, he's really trying to get countries in the region, one, to break ties with Hamas but then also to put pressure on Hamas to get those hostages out. He's going to Jordan. He'll be meeting with the Palestinian Authority president there. He's also going to Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Qatar again, pressing all these countries to put pressure on Hamas but also to prevent this conflict from spreading any further.

CHANG: That is NPR's Michele Kelemen in Tel Aviv. Thank you so much, Michele.

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.