Thousands of people joined a rally in downtown Washington DC to call for a ceasefire amid Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attempts to walk a fine line between the demands of Israel and the region’s Arab countries.
Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, Mr Blinken’s Qatari counterpart, told the top US diplomat at a meeting in Amman, the capital of Jordan, on Saturday that mediation to get Hamas to release hostages is jeopardised by the Israeli bombing, the foreign ministry of Qatar said.
Mr Blinken met with the foreign ministers from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt, in addition to the Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
Mr Blinken is on a trip to several countries throughout the Middle East following his third visit to Israel in the four weeks that have passed since the 7 October attack on Israel by Hamas, the group in charge of Gaza that has been labelled as a terror organisation by the US and the EU, which led to the brutal killing of more than 1,400 people.
More than 9,000 people have died in Gaza, following Israeli counterattacks, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
Mr Blinken yet again noted that the Biden administration is not in favour of a ceasefire at this time, even as it’s been reported that US officials worked behind the scenes to urge Israel to restrain its response and as President Joe Biden has called for the protection of civilians.
The secretary of state instead repeated his call for “humanitarian pauses” as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that his government, which is partially made up of some of Israel’s most far-right parties, opposes any ceasefire unless Hamas lets go all of the hostages they hold. Mr Netanyahu said Israel would continue to block fuel from entering Gaza.
The leaders of Egypt and Jordan, the latter of which has a large Palestinian population, sharply criticised the Israel counteroffensive following the meetings with Mr Blinken, who noted that there are differences with the Arab leaders in their views of the conflict, ahead of his visit to Turkey.
A US official has told CNN that Hamas is blocking foreign nationals from leaving Gaza until they receive guarantees from Israel that ambulances from the Strip can get to the border with Egypt in Rafah.
Hamas made the demand following Israel’s acknowledgement on Friday that it attacked an ambulance near the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, the largest medical facility in the Strip.
The ambulance was part of a convoy moving towards Rafah, the last open access point to exit Gaza. Israel argued that Hamas was using the ambulance, which has been rejected by the Gaza Health Ministry – which is controlled by Hamas.
An official on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing has said that 700 foreign nationals were expected to leave Gaza on Saturday, CNN reported.
On Friday, reports emerged that early attempts to get foreign nationals across the border were hampered partly by Hamas putting its own fighters on a list of injured Palestinians who were set to leave via Rafah, a US official said.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he was “horrified” by the attack on the ambulance. He called for a ceasefire and for the hostages to be released.
Gilad Erdan, the Israeli UN ambassador, said Mr Guterres has been commenting on the situation “without even bothering to ask” about the context in which the strike occurred.
“You completely ignore the fact that Hamas intentionally exploits ambulances for terror,” Mr Erdan wrote on X.
Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel for “consultations” citing the “humanitarian tragedy” in the Strip and the continuation of the airstrikes.
A number of other countries, such as Honduras, Colombia, Chile, and Bahrain, have also called back their top diplomats in the country.
Three people were arrested at anti-government protests in Jerusalem on Saturday as demonstrators called on Mr Netanyahu to resign following his failure to prevent the 7 October attack.
This comes as massive pro-Palestinian protests took place all over the world on Saturday, including in London and in Washington.
A speaker with the Palestinian American Community Network accused President Joe Biden of “dehumanising” Palestinians.
She also announced upcoming protests at the headquarters of the RNC and DNC.
One of the organisers, the leftwing group called the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition, has said that they will “deliver coffins draped in Palestinian flags to the White House to send a powerful message to the Biden administration”.
They also argue that Israel has instituted “apartheid”.
Its executive director Brian Becker told The Washington Post that “people are mortified by the carnage” in Gaza.
“And they are equally mortified that the Biden administration has insisted that there not be a cease-fire,” he added.
The chief executive officer of the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center, Jen Zwilling, emailed the centre’s members on Friday to ask them ahead of the rally on Saturday to “resist the urge to counter-protest and/or engage” with the pro-Palestine demonstrators.
She noted that that may “increase the potential for violence or antisemitic rhetoric,” according to The Washington Post.
The “Free Palestine” rally in Washington DC on Saturday is part of an effort to push the Biden administration to cease its deliveries of aid to Israel and to back a ceasefire.
Last month, Mr Biden announced an aid package to Israel – the largest recipient of US aid – worth $14bn. As of last year, Israel had received about $150bn, a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service stated.
A Quinnipiac University poll published on Thursday shows that about half of all registered voters in the US back Israel’s response to the 7 October Hamas attack.
The lowest approval rating for Israel’s actions is seen among Democrats – 33 per cent, voters between 18 and 34 years old – 32 per cent, and Black voters – 29 per cent, according to Quinnipiac.
Fifty-one per cent of Americans back sending more military support to Israel and 71 per cent back sending humanitarian aid to Gaza to help Palestinian civilians.