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Blinken at Gaza aid conference in Jordan

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Jordan's King Abdullah convened a summit today with Egypt's president and the U.N. secretary-general to push for more aid to Gaza. But a lot of the focus of the event was on the message from the top U.S. diplomat. That's Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: The single most effective step we can take to address the urgent humanitarian challenges in Gaza is to reach an immediate and ultimately enduring cease-fire.

KELLY: The U.N.'s top humanitarian official says, though, that even if a cease-fire is reached, Gaza remains the world's biggest humanitarian crisis. Well, NPR's Jane Arraf joins us from the Dead Sea, where the leaders met. Hey, Jane.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: OK, tell us a little bit more about these talks, what the discussion was at the summit.

ARRAF: Well, King Abdullah hosted the conference, and it included Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the U.N. humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths. It was called an urgent call for action, urgent because they all agree the aid effort now is just not working. As you know, Jordan has played a major role in sending aid to Gaza. But even though it has a longstanding peace agreement with Israel, it's had a hard time. King Abdullah said delivery of food and medicine to Gaza was facing obstacles at every level.

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KING ABDULLAH II: As we gather here within - today with so much at stake, first, there is a need for a robust mechanism for coordination that engages all parties on the ground.

ARRAF: And we should note that Israel was not invited to the conference. Jordan didn't say why, but some officials suggested it was because Israel was an occupying power that was breaching international obligations.

KELLY: And just give us the latest snapshot. How bad is the situation in Gaza?

ARRAF: Gosh, officials are running out of words to describe how bad it is. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said more than 50,000 children in Gaza are acutely malnourished. He said more than half the 2 million population lack clean water and are desperately hungry. But he said despite that...

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ANTONIO GUTERRES: At least half of all humanitarian aid missions are denied access, impeded or canceled due to operational or security reasons.

ARRAF: Guterres said since the start of Israel's assault on Rafah last month, aid delivery into Gaza has fallen by two thirds. Israel disputes that figure. It counts trucks importing food for markets as aid trucks.

KELLY: OK. Now, we know the U.S. is pushing this roadmap for a cease-fire to try to end the war in Gaza. We know the U.N. Security Council endorsed that plan on Monday, yesterday. Secretary Blinken - was he pushing that as these talks proceeded today?

ARRAF: He seemed to be. He discussed it with King Abdullah on the sidelines of the conference. And as you noted on the top, he said the cease-fire was central to solving this humanitarian crisis. There hasn't been a public response yet, though, from Israel, even though President Biden billed it as an Israeli proposal. As Secretary Blinken said, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed it in talks yesterday in Israel. Hamas has not formally announced its response, although it said it welcomed the U.N. resolution...

KELLY: I guess bottom...

ARRAF: ...For a cease-fire.

KELLY: Yeah. Bottom line, to cut to the chase, was there anything new that resulted from this summit?

ARRAF: Yeah. That is indeed the bottom line. They released a final communique calling for a lasting cease-fire and respecting the rights of the Palestinian people. The communique also called for stepped-up efforts to stockpile aid to be able to get it in quickly. Jordan's foreign minister, Ayman Al Safadi, said Israel's response to the October 7 Hamas attack had brought the region to the brink of an abyss.

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AYMAN AL SAFADI: We will not allow radical racist extremists to dictate the future of the region.

ARRAF: He said Jordan would continue to work towards a Palestinian state that would live in peace beside an Israeli one.

KELLY: One more quick thing to ask about. The U.S.-built floating dock, this $320 million floating dock installed off Gaza - did that come up in today's talks?

ARRAF: It did. I asked U.N. humanitarian coordinator Martin Griffiths about that at a press conference after and whether the perception in Gaza that the pier was affiliated with an Israeli military operation created risks for aid groups using it. Here's what he said.

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MARTIN GRIFFITHS: We've heard about these allegations, and they are very, very concerning because they would put at risk any future humanitarian engagement in that operation and not just on the beach.

ARRAF: And he said the U.N. security mission was assessing whether it would be safe and proper to resume use of that pier.

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GRIFFITHS: I hope it does, but you can be damn sure we are going to be very careful about what we assess and what we conclude.

KELLY: OK. That's NPR's Jane Arraf with her reporting at the Dead Sea in Jordan. Thank you so much, Jane.

ARRAF: Thank you, Mary Louise. 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.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.