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Blinken Meets With Netanyahu as U.S.-Israel Tensions Rise

The Biden administration accelerated efforts to halt the Gaza war on Friday as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met with Israeli leaders in Tel Aviv and the C.I.A. director traveled to Qatar, where mediators were trying to narrow gaps between Israel and Hamas over a cease-fire deal.

Mr. Blinken met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and with members of Israel’s war cabinet at a period of high tension between the allies. U.S. officials have become more vocal in criticizing Mr. Netanyahu’s war strategy, including his plan to mount a military offensive in Rafah, the southern Gazan city packed with displaced civilians.

But the Biden administration has stopped short of placing restrictions on military aid to Israel. Although it backed a U.N. Security Council resolution on Friday calling for an immediate cease-fire — a measure that failed to pass — it has also not demanded a permanent stop to Israel’s military offensive in Gaza.

In a statement after their meeting, Mr. Netanyahu said that he had repeated to Mr. Blinken that Israel recognized the need to protect civilians and ensure humanitarian aid for Gaza but was determined to send troops into Rafah despite U.S. urgings not to.

“We have no way to defeat Hamas without going into Rafah and eliminating the rest of the battalions there,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “And I told him that I hope we will do it with the support of the US. But if we must — we will do it alone.”

A member of Mr. Netanyahu’s war cabinet, Benny Gantz, said in a statement that he thanked Mr. Blinken “for his support for Israel and the deep American commitment to its security.” But Mr. Gantz — a longtime political rival of Mr. Netanyahu’s who crossed parliamentary lines to join his wartime government — said he had emphasized that Israel must “dismantle Hamas’s military infrastructure, including in Rafah.”

The secretary of state was making the last stop of a multi-leg Middle East tour, his sixth since the war began in October. At the same time, a U.S. official said, William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, was traveling to Qatar to join talks aimed at reaching a deal between Israel and Hamas that would begin a time-limited cease-fire and exchange of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel for the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza.

Speaking to reporters in Cairo on Thursday, Mr. Blinken said that gaps between the Hamas and Israeli negotiating positions were “narrowing,” but that striking a deal would be difficult.

He also reiterated the U.S. position that Israel must do more to allow humanitarian aid to reach desperate Gazans at risk of starvation, while saying that Israel had taken positive steps in recent weeks to allow the aid to flow.

Mr. Blinken arrived in Israel after stops in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and Egypt on Thursday, during which he met with officials to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and planning for the territory’s future governance and security.

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