Israel-Hamas War Live Updates: Blinken Visits Israel

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on Tuesday tried to persuade Israeli officials to exercise more restraint in their campaign in Gaza by floating the prospect of normalized relations with Saudi Arabia, should Israel lessen the suffering of Gazans and put Palestinians on the path toward statehood.

Israel had “real opportunities” to strengthen ties with Arab nations, Mr. Blinken said on Tuesday in Tel Aviv, the latest stop on a tour around the region. Concerns have grown around the Middle East, and in Washington, that Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza could spread to other fronts, especially where Iran-backed militias operate.

But Israeli leaders have for weeks resisted pressure, including from their closest ally, the United States, to scale back the scope of the campaign and allow aid to reach more Palestinian civilians. Late last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel appeared to rebuff Mr. Blinken’s call for a series of “humanitarian pauses” to allow more deliveries of badly needed food, water, medicine, and other supplies into Gaza.

Mr. Blinken on Tuesday had referred to his earlier assertion that Saudi Arabia and other countries remained interested in building normal diplomatic relations with Israel despite the destruction in Gaza. But Arab leaders insist Israel must end the Gaza war and work toward a Palestinian state, Mr. Blinken has said.

In his news conference, Mr. Blinken also said Israel had agreed to allow a U.N. team into northern Gaza to assess the situation there, a prelude to any process that would allow displaced Palestinians to return to their homes. “As soon as conditions allow we want people to be able to move back to their homes,” he said.

Still, Mr. Blinken emphasized that the United States supports Israel’s right to wage war on Hamas until Israeli hostages are returned and Hamas is no longer able to carry out the sort of cross-border attacks that killed about 1,200 people on Oct. 7.

He also dismissed as “meritless” a case brought by South Africa to the International Criminal Court accusing Israel of genocide.

Mr. Blinken reiterated the United States stands firmly against resettling Palestinians outside of Gaza.

Mr. Blinken also met with Mr. Netanyahu and the Israeli war cabinet in the Kirya, a military base that houses the defense ministry headquarters.

In that meeting, the secretary of state “reaffirmed our support for Israel’s right to prevent the terrorist attacks of Oct. 7 from being repeated and stressed the importance of avoiding further civilian harm and protecting civilian infrastructure in Gaza,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.

Mr. Blinken also discussed efforts to secure the release of hostages abducted to Gaza on Oct. 7 and the importance of expanding humanitarian aid for Gazan civilians, and “reiterated the need to ensure lasting, sustainable peace” in the region, “including by the realization of a Palestinian state,” the statement said.

Before flying to Israel on Monday night, Mr. Blinken told reporters in the desert oasis town of Al Ula in Saudi Arabia that the Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, had said to him there that the Saudis still had “a clear interest” in trying to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel.

But there were at least two conditions for that, Mr. Blinken said: an end to Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, which has killed more than 23,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza health ministry; and Israel agreeing to take practical steps toward establishing a Palestinian state.

Mr. Blinken has visited Turkey, Greece, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia since beginning his latest diplomatic mission on Friday.

In an interview with the BBC that aired on Tuesday, Prince Khalid bin Bandar, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Britain, said that the kingdom’s talks about normalization had revolved around an endpoint that “included nothing less than an independent state of Palestine.”

“While we still — going forward even after Oct. 7 — believe in normalization, it does not come at the cost of the Palestinian people,” Prince Khalid said.

Arab leaders were moving forward with their own diplomacy on the war. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, plans to travel to Jordan to take part in a summit with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan to discuss the situation in Gaza, Jordan’s state news agency reported. Mr. Blinken also plans to meet with Mr. Abbas on his trip.

Vivian Nereim contributed reporting from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.