Egypt’s leader criticises Israel’s Gaza operation as Blinken extends travels

Egypt’s Leader Criticises Israel’s Gaza Operation As Blinken Extends Travels
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to members of the media before leaving Cairo
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By Matthew Lee, AP Diplomatic Writer

Egypt’s president criticised Israel’s military operation in Gaza in a stern pushback to the United States as America’s top diplomat extended his travels across the Middle East trying to prevent the war with Hamas from igniting a broader regional conflict.

With an Israeli ground offensive looming, US 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 levelled no direct public criticism of Israel or its bombing campaign that has killed civilians in Gaza.

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

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Cairo
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, met with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Cairo (Jacquelyn Martin, Pool/AP)


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.

Egypt’s state-run media said Mr El-Sisi told Mr Blinken that Israel’s Gaza operation had exceeded “the right of self-defence” and turned into “a collective punishment”.

Mr 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, Mr 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”.


Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi
Mr El-Sisi told Mr Blinken that Israel’s Gaza operation had turned into ‘a collective punishment’ (Jacquelyn Martin, Pool/AP)

Earlier on 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.

Mr 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 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”.


Meanwhile, the White House announced the appointment of David Satterfield, a former ambassador to Lebanon and Turkey, to lead US efforts to get humanitarian assistance to “vulnerable people through the Middle East”. Mr Satterfield was expected to arrive in Israel on Monday.

From Washington, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser said the US was not “making requests or demands of Israel with respect to its military operations”.

Mr Blinken shakes hands with a Saudi official before boarding a plane to leave Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Sunday
Mr Blinken was in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Sunday (Jacquelyn Martin, Pool/AP)


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 US was “not interfering in their military planning or trying to give them instructions or requests specific”.

Mr Sullivan said the US was 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.

These remarks marked a shift in the US 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 destabilising relatively friendly countries.

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