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Biden Considering Trip To Israel In Coming Days: Report

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is considering a trip to Israel in the coming days, but nothing has been finalized, a senior administration official said Sunday.

A trip would send the strongest message yet that the U.S. is behind Israel following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas. The administration has already pledged military support, sending U.S. aircraft carriers to the region as well as aid. Officials have said they would ask Congress for upward of $2 billion in aid for both Israel and Ukraine.

The official could not publicly discuss internal deliberations about the potential presidential travel and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s president criticized Israel’s military operation in Gaza in a stern pushback Sunday to the United States as America’s top diplomat extended his frenetic travels across the Mideast trying to prevent the war with Hamas from igniting a broader regional conflict.

With an Israeli ground offensive looming, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reaffirmed in some of his strongest language to date that Washington would stand with Israel “today, tomorrow and every day” in a partnership of shared democratic values, but that Israel must take “every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians.” He leveled no direct public criticism of Israel or its bombing campaign that has killed civilians in Gaza.

From Cairo, where President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi conveyed his criticism, Blinken went to Jordan and planned to return to Israel on Monday, carrying to Israeli leaders the feedback he received in a rush of meetings with leaders throughout the Arab world.

His second visit to Israel in recent days will come amid heightening fears that a looming Israeli move into Gaza could spark a wider war with devastating humanitarian consequences, a growing concern for the Biden administration. And the death toll of U.S. citizens rose to 30, with 13 still missing.

Egypt’s state-run media said el-Sissi told Blinken that Israel’s Gaza operation has exceeded “the right of self-defense” and turned into “a collective punishment.”

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meets with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Cairo on Oct. 15, 2023. After Egypt, Blinken will head back to Israel on Oct. 16 for his second visit in less than a week following a tour of six Arab countries on the crisis with Hamas, the State Department said.
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meets with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Cairo on Oct. 15, 2023. After Egypt, Blinken will head back to Israel on Oct. 16 for his second visit in less than a week following a tour of six Arab countries on the crisis with Hamas, the State Department said.

Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Blinken told reporters before leaving Egypt that “Israel has the right, indeed it has the obligation to defend itself against these attacks from Hamas and to try to do what it can to make sure that this never happens again.” Mindful of the potential human cost in Gaza, Blinken said “the way that Israel does this matters. It needs to do it in a way that affirms the shared values that we have for human life and human dignity, taking every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians.’’

Earlier Sunday, the envoy met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, talks that built upon earlier sessions with the leaders of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.

Blinken said that what he heard in every meeting with Arab leaders “was a determination of shared view that we have to do everything possible to make sure this doesn’t spread to other places, a shared view to safeguard innocent lives, a shared view to get assistance to Palestinians in Gaza who need it and we’re working very much on that.”

The White House also appointed David Satterfield, a former ambassador to Lebanon and Turkey, to lead U.S. efforts to get humanitarian assistance to “vulnerable people through the Middle East.” Satterfield was expected to arrive in Israel on Monday.

From Washington, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser said the U.S. was not “making requests or demands of Israel with respect to its military operations.” Jake Sullivan, making the rounds of the Sunday TV news shows, said the administration was “simply stating our basic principles — the principles upon which this country is based and all democracies, including Israel, are based. It’s what makes us different from the terrorists, that in fact we respect civilian life.”

He said the U.S. was not “not interfering in their military planning or trying to give them instructions or requests specific.” Sullivan said the U.S. is conveying the message in public and in private that “all military operations should be conducted consistent with law of war, that civilians should be protected, that civilians should have a real opportunity to get to safety” and have access to food, water, medicine and shelter.

Those remarks marked a shift in the U.S. administration’s comments in recent days as officials have heard concerns from Arab leaders about the consequences of what a humanitarian catastrophe resulting from an Israeli ground offensive would do not only to Palestinians but also in inflaming public opinions in Arab nations and potentially destabilizing relatively friendly countries.

Sullivan also said the U.S. has been unable so far to get American citizens out of Gaza through Egypt’s Rafah crossing with Gaza.

“It has been difficult to execute that operation to facilitate their passage out. … It’s a high priority,” acknowledging that “I’m not aware of anyone else being able to get out at this time.” The crossing was closed because of airstrikes early in the war. There are an estimated 500 Americans living in Gaza, but that number is imprecise, officials have said.

U.S. officials have said the Arab reaction to Blinken’s message has been generally positive — acknowledging Israel has a right to respond to the Hamas attacks but expressing deep concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and unable to stay silent about the Palestinian civilian casualties that result. The Arab leaders have also said the current situation cannot be resolved without an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal that gives the Palestinians an independent state.

Blinken made clear in Egypt that the U.S. will not waver in supporting Israel, saying, “We will stand with it today, tomorrow and every day and we’re doing that in word and also in deed.’’

In his roughly hourlong meeting with Prince Mohammed at the de facto Saudi leader’s private farm outside Riyadh, Blinken “highlighted the United States’ unwavering focus on halting terrorist attacks by Hamas, securing the release of all hostages, and preventing the conflict from spreading,” the State Department said.

“The two affirmed their shared commitment to protecting civilians and to advancing stability across the Middle East and beyond,” according to a department statement.

The Saudi description of the meeting focused primarily on Palestinian civilians, echoing the sentiments that the other Arab leaders with whom Blinken has met. It said Saudi Arabia would object to the targeting of “civilians in any way or disrupt(ing) infrastructure and vital interests that affect their daily lives.”

The prince “stressed the need to work to discuss ways to stop the military operations that claimed the lives of innocent people,“ the Saudi Press Agency said in a report about the meeting.

Associated Press writers Sam Magdy in Cairo, Colleen Long in Washington and Michelle L. Price in New York contributed to this report.


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