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Exclusive: Blinken says Israel is taking important steps to better protect civilians in southern Gaza


By Jennifer Hansler, CNN

(CNN) — Israel is taking some “important steps” to better protect civilians during its offensive in southern Gaza, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on CNN’s “King Charles” Wednesday.

In a wide-ranging, exclusive interview with Charles Barkley and Gayle King, the top US diplomat suggested Israeli forces are heeding his call to operate differently in this phase of the war with Hamas than they did in northern Gaza.

“I said to them very clearly when I was there just a week ago, we cannot have a repeat of what happened in the north in the south in terms of harm being done to civilians,” Blinken said.

“What we’re seeing is areas clearly designated by Israel that are safe areas, where there’s not going to be firing or the military. We’ve seen efforts to make sure that people know that they need to move – and not in the entire city, but just discrete neighborhoods. So that’s positive,” Blinken described.

Still, Blinken said more needs to be done, describing the massive civilian death toll in the war-torn Gaza strip as “gut wrenching.”

He called for the establishment of “safe corridors” for civilians to move “from areas that could be in danger to places where they’ll be safe,” and stressed the need for such places to have enough food, water and medicine.

The Biden administration is engaging with the Israeli government “every single day,” Blinken said. And they are working “daily … or sometimes even hourly” to restart negotiations to get the remaining hostages held by Hamas home.

“It’s not a question of numbers. These are real people, real lives, real families whose lives have been turned upside down. I’ve got photographs of all of them,” Blinken revealed.

“It’s real for me, it’s real for the president, and we’re on this. Unfortunately, Hamas gets the vote. And Hamas stopped releasing hostages. It reneged on its commitments to Israel, and to everyone else concerned,” he said. “The bottom line is they chose to end this process of releasing hostages. They need to choose to start it again.”

Personal resonance

Blinken, who is Jewish and the stepson of a Holocaust survivor, described his own horror at the brutal images and videos of the Hamas atrocities.

“When I saw what happened on October 7, of course it had a personal resonance. It had a resonance that goes through the history of the Jewish people, especially by the nature, the savagery of the attacks that were committed,” he told Charles and King.

Blinken also described the surge in antisemitism on college campuses as “deeply, deeply disturbing.”

“That’s something that, you know, is not entirely new, but it’s sort of come out from beneath the rock since October 7,” he said.

“I’m also deeply disturbed about the same kind of hatred and vitriol being directed against Muslim Americans, Arab Americans,” Blinken added. “We see this in all different directions, and we have to get back to a place where people on all of our campuses can feel safe being who they are, what they are, and saying what they believe.”

Asked what advice he would give for how people of different views can discuss the war respectfully, the top US diplomat said, “What we need to stop is the dehumanization of the other.”

“We have to recognize the humanity in each other. We have to try to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. We have to have that openness of mind and openness of heart. And when you have that, you can talk about anything, even the hardest things,” he said.

More broadly, the top US diplomat acknowledged that American engagement on issues like Ukraine and China may seem distant to the American people. However, he stressed that they have impact on people in the US.

“When we’re not engaged, the United States, when we’re not leading, then one of two things usually happens,” he said, pointing to another nation filling the void or a leadership vacuum.

“And one way or another,” he added, “that’s going to come back and hit us and we’re going to wind up having to do more, pay more and maybe even suffer more if we let these things go.”

And on that viral moment of him appearing to wince as President Joe Biden again called Chinese President Xi Jinping a “dictator,” Blinken chalked it up to a long day.

“I’m tempted to say that we’d had a really long day, a very important and intense conversation with China. My neck was a little bit stiff. And, you know, that happens,” he said. “But look, as I said before, it’s not exactly a secret that we have a very different system from … China’s. The president always speaks very clearly, very directly, and he speaks for everyone.”

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Article Topic Follows: Politics

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