Jordan’s foreign minister says summit with Biden has been canceled

Biden’s efforts to tamp down tensions in the escalating war between Israel and Hamas faced setbacks even before he departed for the Middle East on Tuesday.

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) — Jordan’s foreign minister told state-run television that Jordan has canceled the four-way summit scheduled for Wednesday with U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders.

Ayman Safadi told al-Mamlaka TV that the war between Israel and Hammas was “pushing the region to the brink.”

He said the summit would be postponed.

After visiting Israel Wednesday, Biden had planned to travel to Amman for the summit.

The White House said Biden had hoped to use the summit to discuss the bloody Oct. 7 Hamas militant attack on Israel with America’s Arab allies and the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited autonomy in parts of the occupied West Bank.

President Joe Biden’s efforts to tamp down tensions in the escalating war between Israel and Hamas faced massive setbacks even before he departed for the Middle East on Tuesday, as Jordan called off the president’s planned summit with Arab leaders after a deadly explosion at a Gaza hospital killed hundreds.

Biden now will visit only Israel and will postpone his travel to Jordan, a White House official said as Biden departed.

The postponement of the Amman summit comes after Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas withdrew from the scheduled meetings in protest of the attacks, which the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza blamed on an Israeli airstrike. The Israeli military said it had no involvement and pinned the blame on a misfired Palestinian rocket.

“This war and this aggression are pushing the region to the brink,” Ayman Safadi, Jordan’s foreign minister, told al-Mamlaka TV, a state-run network. He said Jordan would only host the summit when all participants agreed on its purpose, which would be to “stop the war, respect the humanity of the Palestinians, and deliver the aid they deserve.”

The cancellation reflects an increasingly volatile situation that will test the limits of American influence in the region as Biden visits Wednesday.

Biden’s decision to put himself in a conflict zone — the same year he made a surprise visit to Ukraine — demonstrates his willingness to take personal and political risks as he becomes heavily invested in another intractable foreign conflict with no clear end game and plenty of opportunity for things to spiral out of control.

Wounded Palestinians wait for treatment, at the al-Shifa hospital, in Gaza City, central Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Abed Khaled)

The high-stakes presidential trip is emblematic of Biden’s belief that the United States should not turn back from its central role on the global stage and his faith that personal diplomacy can play a decisive role.

“This is how Joe Biden believes politics works and history is made,” said Jon Alterman, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who worked on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee while Biden was a member.

There’s been no water, fuel or food delivered to Gaza since the brutal Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that killed more than 1,400 Israelis and triggered the unfolding war. Mediators have been struggling to break a deadlock over providing supplies to desperate civilians, aid groups and hospitals.

As the humanitarian crisis grows, so too does the concern of a spiraling conflict that stretches beyond the borders of Gaza. There have already been skirmishes on Israel’s northern border with Hezbollah, an Iran-backed group that’s based in Southern Lebanon.

“There’s a lot that can go wrong on this trip,” Alterman said.

Biden’s travels will be rife with security concerns, and visits by other U.S. officials have been disrupted by rocket launches into Israel. Additional Israeli airstrikes in Gaza could also prompt more condemnation at a time when Biden is intending to demonstrate solidarity with the United States’ closest ally in the region.

The U.S. has subtly shifted its message over the past week, maintaining full-throated support for Israel while slowly turning up the diplomatic volume on the need for humanitarian assistance in Gaza, as Biden and aides have heard increasingly dire predictions about the potential for images of suffering Palestinians to ignite protests and broader unrest throughout the Middle East.

U.S. officials said it has become clear that already limited Arab tolerance of Israel’s military operations would evaporate entirely if conditions in Gaza worsened.

Their analysis projected that outright condemnation of Israel by Arab leaders would not only be a boon to Hamas but would likely encourage Iran to step up its anti-Israel activity, adding to fears that a regional conflagration might erupt, according to four officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss internal administration thinking.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, bouncing back and forth between Arab and Israeli leadership ahead of Biden’s visit, spent seven and a half hours meeting Monday in Tel Aviv in an effort to broker some kind of aid agreement and emerged with a green light to create a plan on how aid can enter Gaza and be distributed to civilians.

It was on the surface a modest accomplishment, but U.S. officials stressed that it represented a significant change in Israel’s position going in — that Gaza would remain cut off from fuel, electricity, water and other essential supplies.

Biden has a long track record of showing public support for Israel while expressing concerns privately to the Israelis about their behavior.

“He believes the only way to get inside the Israelis’ heads is to demonstrate profound empathy, but also to be there,” Alterman said.

In Israel, Biden was expected to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials. His plans to then meet in Jordan with King Abdullah II, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas were scrapped.

Neither nation wants to absorb refugees. Jordan already has a large Palestinian population, and the country is coping with hundreds of thousands of refugees from neighboring Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.

With tens of thousands of troops massed along the Israel-Gaza border, Israel has been expected to launch a ground invasion — but plans remain uncertain. U.S. officials have refused to say whether the Israelis were holding off in order for Biden to visit.

“We are preparing for the next stages of war,” Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht said. “We haven’t said what they will be. Everybody’s talking about a ground offensive. It might be something different.”

Meanwhile, the death toll is mounting even without the war’s next stage. Israeli strikes on Gaza have killed at least 2,700 people and wounded more than 9,700, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Nearly two-thirds of those killed were children, a ministry official said.

World reacts as Gaza officials say 500 killed

At least 500 people have been killed in an Israeli air raid on al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, according to Palestinian authorities in the besieged territory.

Several world leaders have condemned the attack.

Here are some of the early key reactions:

Palestine

A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the air raid as an act of “genocide” and a “humanitarian catastrophe”.

Abbas has also withdrawn from a previously scheduled meeting with US President Joe Biden, who is set to arrive in the region on Wednesday.

Jordan

In a statement on Tuesday, the Jordanian foreign ministry strongly condemned Israel’s attack and emphasised the need for international protection for Palestinian civilians and an end to the fighting.

King Abdullah II said Israel’s bombing of Gaza hospital was a “massacre” and a “war crime” that one cannot be silent about.

Egypt

The Egyptian government has issued a statement denouncing the attack “in the strongest terms”, calling on the international community to step in and prevent further violations.

Qatar

Qatar’s foreign ministry said the attack marked a dangerous escalation.

“The expansion of Israeli attacks over the Gaza Strip to include hospitals, schools, and other population centres is a dangerous escalation,” the statement reads.

World Health Organization (WHO)

“WHO strongly condemns the attack on Al Ahli Arab Hospital”, the UN health agency’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on the social media platform X, adding that early reports indicate “hundreds of deaths and injuries”.

“We call for the immediate protection of civilians and health care, and for the evacuation orders to be reversed.”

The Arab League

Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit said that international leaders must “stop this tragedy immediately” in response to the attack.

“What diabolical mind intentionally bombards a hospital and its defenceless inhabitants?” he wrote in a social media post, saying that “Arab mechanisms will document these war crimes and the criminals will not get away with their actions.”

Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has denounced the attack in a statement on social media.

“Hitting a hospital containing women, children and innocent civilians is the latest example of Israel’s attacks devoid of the most basic human values,” he said.

“I invite all humanity to take action to stop this unprecedented brutality in Gaza.”

Canada

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the attack and stressed the importance of adhering to the laws of war.

“The news coming out of Gaza is horrific and absolutely unacceptable … international law needs to be respected in this and in all cases. There are rules around wars and it’s not acceptable to hit a hospital,” Trudeau told reporters.

Iran

Iran’s foreign ministry has denounced the air raid as an attack on “unarmed and defenceless people”, Iranian state media reported.

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