AMMAN, Jordan — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stepped up his frantic diplomacy on Saturday, trying to build support for planning a post-war future for Gaza as he continued his second urgent mission to the Middle East since Hamas’s murderous October 7 attack sparked war with Israel.
The top US envoy met in Amman with senior Jordanian and other Arab officials, who remain angry and deeply suspicious of Israel as it intensifies its war against Hamas.
Blinken met first with Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, whose economically and politically ravaged country is home to Iran-backed terror group Hezbollah.
Blinken thanked Mikati for his leadership “in preventing Lebanon from being pulled into a war that the Lebanese people do not want,” said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.
Blinken also discussed US efforts to secure humanitarian assistance for civilians in Gaza, Miller said.
The US has grave concerns that Hezbollah, which has already stepped up rocket and cross-border attacks on northern Israel, will take a more active role in the war. The US has sent two aircraft carrier groups to the eastern Mediterranean in an effort to deter the terror group from opening a second front against Israel.
On Friday, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah gave his first major speech since the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel that sparked the war, but did not forecast his group’s greater involvement despite professing it was not perturbed by US attempts to deter it.
Neither Blinken nor Mikati spoke to reporters at the top of their meeting in an Amman hotel.
Nor did Blinken speak publicly as he posed for pictures with Qatar’s foreign minister, whose country has emerged as the most influential interlocutor with Hamas and has been key to negotiating the limited release of hostages held by the group as well as convincing it to allow foreign citizens to leave Gaza and cross into Egypt.
Qatar is home to a number of leaders of Hamas, and the Gulf nation has poured tens of millions of dollars into the Gaza Strip in recent years.
Blinken was then to meet with the head of UNRWA, the United Nations agency in charge of assisting Palestinian refugees.
Later, Blinken was to hold group talks with foreign ministers of Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and the chair of the PLO executive committee.
All those parties have denounced Israel’s tactics against Hamas, which they say constitutes unlawful collective punishment of the Palestinian people.
Israel says its offensive is aimed at destroying Hamas’s infrastructure, and has vowed to eliminate the entire terror group, which rules the Strip. It says it is targeting all areas where Hamas operates, while seeking to minimize civilian casualties.
Blinken will also see King Abdullah II of Jordan, whose country this week recalled its ambassador to Israel and told Israel’s envoy not to return to the country until the war was over.
Still, the Arab states have thus far resisted American suggestions that they play a larger role in the crisis, expressing outrage at the civilian toll of the Israeli military operations but believing Gaza to be a problem largely of Israel’s own making.
The Arab officials meeting with Blinken were convened by Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi, who said the gathering was organized “in the context of their efforts aimed at stopping the Israeli war on Gaza and the humanitarian catastrophe it is causing,” Jordan’s foreign ministry said.
The meetings came a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Blinken’s call for humanitarian pauses in the Gaza fighting, saying that it would need to include the release of the hostages held in the Strip.
Still, US officials believe Arab backing — no matter how modest — will be critical to efforts to not only ease the worsening conditions in Gaza but also to lay the groundwork for what would replace Hamas as the territory’s governing authority if and when Israel succeeds in eradicating it.
However, ideas on Gaza’s future governance are few and far between, with Blinken and other US officials offering a vague outline that it might include a combination of a revitalized Palestinian Authority — which has not been a factor in the territory since Hamas seized the enclave in a bloody coup in 2007 — international organizations and potentially a peacekeeping force.
US officials acknowledge these ideas have been met with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.
Israel launched its war against Hamas on October 7, after the terror group carried out a bloody onslaught in southern Israel, killing some 1,400 people and taking over 240 hostages.
The vast majority of those killed that day were civilians, many of them slaughtered in their homes. In response to the killings, Israel vowed to eradicate the terror group and destroy its infrastructure and has since hit thousands of Hamas targets inside the Strip with airstrikes and an ongoing ground operation.
Israel says it is targeting all areas where Hamas operates while seeking to minimize civilian casualties.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza has accused Israel of killing more than 9,000 people, most of them civilians. The numbers cannot be verified by external sources, and Hamas is believed to be including its own members in the toll, as well as those killed by failed rocket launches from within the enclave.
Hundreds of thousands of Gazans from the Strip’s north have moved to the south as Israel has warned of its intensifying offensive on the Gaza City area. The UN and international actors have warned of a potential humanitarian catastrophe and have called on Israel to greatly increase the aid allowed into the Strip via Egypt’s Rafah crossing.