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Countries are treading cautiously around escalation in the Israel and Gaza conflict

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has declared his country is at war. In an early morning attack, Palestinian militants infiltrated Israel's border using paragliders and trucks. There are reports of kidnapped Israeli soldiers and civilians. About a hundred Israelis have died, and hundreds are wounded. Israeli retaliated swiftly with airstrikes, with a health official in Gaza saying around 200 people have died there, and over 1,600 have been wounded. The violence has put the entire region on high alert. NPR's Aya Batrawy is in Dubai and joins us now. Aya, what's the regional response been?

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: We haven't seen immediate statements from heavyweights like the United Arab Emirates, which has close ties now with Israel. But we have seen Saudi Arabia quickly issue a statement just now saying they're closely following these developments. They're calling it unprecedented. They're calling for an immediate halt to the escalation and the protection of civilians and saying that - you know, look, that Saudi Arabia is reminding everyone that they have been given repeated warnings of the dangers, that the situation is explosive. Egypt, which borders Gaza and has had a long-standing role as a mediator in these conflicts, says its foreign minister has already been working the phones to bring an end to the escalation, but that might be in vain given the gravity of the situation, and the current Israeli government that would be expected to respond pretty fast and hard to this. And we've also seen no response immediately from Iran. But the Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah group congratulated the Palestinians for their, quote, "heroic factions" there for this operation. And the Turkish president, Tayyip Erdogan, called for restraint from all parties. So, yeah, there's been a cautious approach so far, I think, in a lot of the statements.

SIMON: Aya, how do you imagine the stunning images from this morning and Israel's response are going to be received in the region?

BATRAWY: I mean, this is major news. I mean, all the Arabic satellite channels are carrying these just insane, stunning images out of Israel. A lot of these are social media videos. We don't know how many of these are real, but - or have been verified. But, you know, every time a war breaks out between Israel and Gaza, the images are horrifying here in the region. You know, and look. Hamas is saying that this is in response to thousands of extremist settlers violating the sanctity of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the most - the holiest sites for Muslims and for Jews. But we also saw in Ramadan, you know, the Al-Aqsa Mosque - worshippers inside being beaten. And so it's been very sensitive year. It's been a very unsettling time. And we've seen raids in the West Bank and close to 250 Palestinians killed this year by Israeli forces. So emotions on the street have been high, and any conflict could just make that even, you know, more.

SIMON: Aya, what does another war mean for Israel's new allies in the region, like the UAE and, for that matter, the Biden administration's efforts to put together some kind of deal that would see Saudi Arabia establish ties with Israel?

BATRAWY: Well, we talked about popular sentiment, but politically among the political leadership in the region, particularly the Gulf in Egypt, Hamas is not popular. The UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia - they see Hamas as an Islamist offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood group. And they see it as a faction and entity that is backed by Iran. So I think statements will be cautious. But the reality is Saudi Arabia has a much bigger agenda with normalizing ties with Israel that goes far beyond anything that could just be another cycle. You know, unfortunately, these wars do happen every two to three years, and it's become almost inevitable. And I think even the Saudi statement said, like, this is a result of the continued occupation. And, you know, they're calling for a credible peace process that can lead to a two-state solution. So I don't think this will derail the talks, but it certainly complicates an already very difficult negotiation.

SIMON: NPR's Aya Batrawy in Dubai, thanks so much.

BATRAWY: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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.