Blinken says no ‘direct evidence’ that Iran was involved in the Hamas attack on Israel

There is no “direct evidence” that Iran was involved in Hamas’ brutal assault on Israel last week, Secretary of State said Thursday in an interview with NBC News.

“Iran has had a long relationship with Hamas. Hamas wouldn’t be Hamas without the support over many, many years from Iran,” he told “NBC Nightly News” anchor in an interview that aired Thursday. “And so, we know that. We see that. When it comes to this specific attack, in this moment, we don’t have direct evidence that Iran was involved in the attack, either in planning it or carrying it out.”

He said, “There’s a much longer complicity between Iran and Hamas that the world knows, and it’s one of the reasons that since this administration has been in office, we’ve sanctioned Iran, individuals companies, more than 400 times, including for support to Hamas.”

Blinken arrived in Israel on Wednesday with the goal of offering support and solidarity in the wake of the brutal terrorist attack on people in Israel by Hamas on Saturday.

Asked by Holt if there were any “red lines” the U.S. might have in terms of Israel’s response, Blinken said, “We’re talking to them about their plans, how they propose to proceed, but I’m not going to get into any of the operational details, and again, we’re determined to support them.”

Asked if there were concerns about a larger regional war breaking out, Blinken said the U.S. is “determined there not be.”

The Biden administration had faced scrutiny over its decision to unfreeze $6 billion in oil reserve funds as part of a prisoner exchange with Iran, which has historically funded Hamas. The White House had insisted that the money, which is held in a Qatari bank, could be used only for humanitarian purposes. Blinken also said Thursday in his interview that none of the funds had been distributed yet.

The U.S. and Qatari governments have now also agreed to block Iran from accessing any of the $6 billion, Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo told House Democrats on Thursday, according to three sources familiar with his remarks, two of whom were in the room.

Blinken met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday and was also scheduled to meet with other Israeli officials, including President Isaac Herzog and members of Israel’s Cabinet. Blinken said he would also meet with U.S. Embassy personnel in Israel.

John Kirby, the spokesman for the National Security Council, said Thursday that the number of American citizens killed in Saturday’s terrorist attack had risen to 27, with 14 people also unaccounted-for. Blinken announced in joint statements with Netanyahu that the U.S. is also working closely with Israel’s government to determine the whereabouts of Americans who remain unaccounted-for and whether they’ve been taken hostage by Hamas in Gaza.

“We are doing everything we can to secure the freedom of those who’ve been taken hostage,” Blinken told Holt.

He also said the U.S. was arranging for charter flights to bring Americans who’ve been stuck in Israel to other countries beginning Friday.

“The airports here are open and functioning, but some carriers for the time being suspended operations,” including U.S. carriers, he said, noting there are an estimated 100,000 Americans in Israel, many of whom were “just visiting.”

Blinken said the situation in Israel is personal to him as a Jew and because his grandfather fled pogroms in Russia and his stepfather survived three concentration camps during the Holocaust.

“I understand, on a personal level, the harrowing echoes that the Hamas massacres carry for Israeli Jews — indeed, for Jews everywhere,” he said. “The message that I bring to Israel is this: You may be strong enough on your own to defend yourself. But as long as America exists, you will never, ever have to — we will always be there by your side. That’s the message that President Biden delivered to the prime minister from the moment this crisis began.”

Blinken reiterated that the U.S. “has Israel’s back,” saying that it has deployed the world’s largest aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean, that it is supplying more ammunition interceptors to help replenish Israel’s Iron Dome and that it is sending more U.S. military support.

Blinken told reporters at a separate news conference Thursday that he had been shown graphic photographs, including images of dead children and beheaded soldiers.

“It’s hard to find the right words,” he said. “It’s beyond what anyone would ever want to imagine, much less actually see and, God forbid, experience. A baby, an infant riddled with bullets. Soldiers beheaded. Young people burned alive in their cars or in their hideaway rooms.”

Earlier in the day, Blinken made an unscheduled stop at a donation center in Tel Aviv, where he met with a survivor of the music festival attack in southern Israel on Saturday.

Blinken is scheduled to travel Friday to Amman, Jordan, to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordanian King Abdullah II. He also plans to travel to Qatar on Friday to meet with senior officials, a U.S. official confirmed Thursday.

His meetings in Doha will focus on joint Qatari-U.S. efforts to de-escalate and to secure the release of the hostages, said a source with knowledge of the visit.

At least 1,300 Israelis — including 222 soldiers — were killed in Hamas’ attack Saturday, and more than 3,300 have been injured. In Gaza, at least 1,400 people have been killed and more than 6,000 injured.

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