Blinken says Gaza protests a hallmark of democracy, decries ‘silence’ on Hamas

By Thomson Reuters Apr 26, 2024 | 7:47 AM

By Simon Lewis

BEIJING (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday protests at U.S. universities over U.S.-ally Israel’s war in Gaza are a hallmark of American democracy, but criticized what he called the “silence” about Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Police have clashed with students critical of the war and the Biden administration’s support for Israel’s war in Gaza, with nearly 550 arrests made over the protests in the last week across major U.S. universities, according to a Reuters tally.

Asked at a press conference in China whether he was taking on board the protesters’ message, Blinken said he understood the conflict elicited “strong, passionate feelings” and that the administration was doing it all it could to halt the war.

“In our own country, it’s a hallmark of our democracy that our citizens make known their views, their concerns, their anger, at any given time, and I think that reflects the strength of the country, the strength of democracy,” Blinken said.

But he suggested critics should focus their ire on Hamas militants who sparked the war with their Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel in which about 1,200 people were killed and some 250 taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel’s military response has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians and injured more than 77,000, according to the health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

“It is also notable that there is silence about Hamas, as if it wasn’t even part of the story,” Blinken said.

“But as I’ve also said repeatedly, the way Israel goes about ensuring that Oct. 7 never happens again matters profoundly. And we’re working every day to try to minimize the damage that’s done to innocent people and to make sure that they have the assistance and support that they need.”

Blinken, who met Chinese President Xi Jinping and other officials in Beijing on Friday, said he had discussed how China can play a constructive role in global crises, including in the Middle East, where he said Beijing can discourage Iran and its proxies not to escalate the conflict.

Blinken said he spoke to Foreign Minister Wang Yi multiple times this month when tensions spiked between Israel and Tehran. China is the main buyer of oil exported by sanctions-hit Iran.

“I think the relationships, again, that China has can be positive in trying to calm tensions, prevent escalation, avoid the spread of the conflict, and we agreed that we’d remain in regular in regular touch on this, and that’s certainly my intention,” Blinken said.

(Reporting by Simon Lewis, Additional reporting by Antoni Slodkowski, Editing by Timothy Heritage)