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U.S. aims to contain Israel-Hamas war but there are fears the violence is spreading


President Biden has landed in Israel. He's meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this morning. This comes amid rising tensions throughout the region. Protesters took to the streets across the Arab world to denounce an explosion at a hospital in Gaza yesterday. Several hundred people were killed, and both Israel and Hamas have blamed others for the attack. This morning, though, President Biden appeared to accept Israel's telling of the story.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I was deeply saddened and outraged by the explosion at the hospital in Gaza yesterday, and based on what I've seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you. But there's a lot of people out there who are not sure. So we have a lot - we've got to overcome a lot of things.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Michele Kelemen is in Amman, Jordan. She joins us now. Michele, what is President Biden trying to achieve here?

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Well, there's a lot of pressure on him to use his influence with Israel to get aid into Gaza and to open up some sort of safe passage for civilians. So that's one goal. He's also trying to get a better sense of Israel's endgame in Gaza, and he's trying to contain this whole conflict in a very combustible region. The U.S. is very worried about violence spreading. The Biden administration has been pressing countries throughout the region to use their influence with groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and other militants to keep them out of this fight. But that gets really harder to do as the Palestinian death toll climbs and protests spread.

MARTÍNEZ: So what's the United States' official position about the explosion?

KELEMEN: He said that it was the other team, as he put it. Israeli officials have said that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad launched the rocket from inside Gaza and that the rocket failed and caused that explosion at the hospital. The Palestinians say it was an Israeli airstrike, and they're demanding an end to the Israeli bombardment. We're hearing today from the U.N. secretary general, who has not pointed fingers, but he is calling for a humanitarian pause to allow aid to get in. And right now, A, the U.S. has not pushed for a cease-fire. U.S. officials say Israel has the right to go after Hamas after that unprecedented attack a week and a half ago. Netanyahu called the attack pure evil and said the world should unite behind Israel to defeat Hamas.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. The whole situation is terrible. What are the U.S. and the West trying to do?

KELEMEN: So Secretary Blinken has been traveling throughout the region in the run-up to Biden's trip, and he's been trying to negotiate a deal with the Israelis to allow aid into Gaza and to set up safe areas for civilians. There is a lot of pressure now to make that a reality. But remember, Gaza is a tiny territory with two million Palestinians, and there's really nowhere safe to go. Most people don't have access to water or electricity, and they're desperate for help. Israel has been blocking aid, fearing that it could be stolen by Hamas or benefit Hamas, which is, by the way, still holding nearly 200 Israelis hostage, including some Americans, and that, A, is adding just another layer of complexity to this.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. Michele, you're in Jordan because you've been traveling with Secretary of State Antony Blinken around the region. What are other Arab nations saying about all this?

KELEMEN: So Egypt's president told Secretary Blinken a few days ago that he thinks this is now becoming collective punishment against the Palestinian people. He was due to come here to Jordan to meet with President Biden, along with Jordan's King, Abdullah, and the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas. That summit and that trip has been called off, and things are getting really tense.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen in Amman, Jordan. Michele, thanks.

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

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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.