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Blinken is in the Middle East trying to get aid into Gaza and more hostages released


Eight more Israeli hostages have been freed by Hamas on this, the seventh day of a pause in the fighting in Gaza. Each day has seen hostages released in exchange for Israel freeing Palestinian detainees and prisoners. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in the Middle East trying to keep this on track, trying to get as many hostages as possible out and more aid into Gaza.


ANTONY BLINKEN: We want to see this process continue to move forward. We want an eighth day and beyond so that people can be returned to their families, and that applies to all hostages.

KELLY: NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with Blinken. She joins me now from Tel Aviv. Hi, Michele.


KELLY: Update us on how Blinken is doing trying to keep this pause going as long as he can. Is he succeeding?

KELEMEN: Well, these are day-by-day, even hour-by-hour negotiations. And Israel has made clear that it will resume the fight as soon as Hamas stops releasing these hostages. So far, it's released only women and children and some foreign nationals - more than 100 in total. But there are still over 100 being held. And Blinken says he's very, very focused on this.

He also says he shares Israel's goal to make sure Hamas no longer runs Gaza and can't carry out the kind of attack that it did on October 7 when it took these hostages. He says a Hamas attack on an Israeli bus stop just today underscores that point. At least three Israelis were killed, as well as the two Palestinian gunmen in that attack. And Blinken says two Americans were among those wounded there.

KELLY: So you said Israel has made clear it will resume the fight as soon as Hamas stops letting these hostages go. Is Blinken encouraging Israel to do things differently than we saw in the first several weeks of this war?

KELEMEN: He is. And that was a big focus of his meetings here. He said that there has to be a plan in place to make sure there's not a repeat of what happened in northern Gaza when there was, in his words, a massive loss of civilian life and displacement. Here he is.


BLINKEN: We made clear the imperative that before any operations go forward in southern Gaza, that there be a clear plan in place that puts a premium on protecting civilians, as well as sustaining and building on the humanitarian assistance that's getting into Gaza. And the Israeli government agreed with that approach.

KELEMEN: He didn't really go into details about the Israeli planning, but he said the U.S. wants to make sure Israel designates areas in southern and central Gaza where Palestinian civilians can be safe. He says Israel also needs to avoid damaging hospitals, power stations and water facilities - you know, that critical infrastructure in Gaza. And he said he thinks the Israelis can do that and still meet their military objectives.

KELLY: Apart from Gaza, there has also been violence recently in the occupied West Bank. I know Blinken went to the West Bank today. What was his message?

KELEMEN: Yeah, he met with the Palestinian Authority president in Ramallah, and he talked about aid to Gaza and what could come next in Gaza. But he also did talk about the violence in the West Bank. Blinken has been calling on Israel to take steps to prevent Israeli settlers from attacking Palestinians and forcing Palestinians off their land. He said the U.S. could deny visas to Israeli extremists. That's something the U.S. has been considering for a while now but hasn't taken that step.

KELLY: NPR's Michele Kelemen in Tel Aviv tonight. She's traveling with the secretary of state. Thanks, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Michele Kelemen
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.