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Israel's neighbors call for calm in the conflict, protestors take to the streets

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

The Hamas military commander behind one of the worst attacks on Israel in decades has called for a regional war in the hopes that sympathetic nations would join him. But reaction from nearby states has been mixed. Protests in Yemen and Turkey broke out in support of the Palestinians, but there are also calls for an end to the violence. NPR's Peter Kenyon has been looking at reactions from around the region and joins us now. Welcome to the program.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So what kind of reactions are you seeing so far?

KENYON: Well, in addition to those protests you mentioned, there has been a theme of calm - being pleas for calm and protecting civilian lives. A typical reaction came from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The Saudi foreign ministry called for an immediate halt to the escalation of the conflict. The foreign minister spoke with Secretary of State Antony Blinken - called on all sides to respect international humanitarian law. Now, the Saudi reaction is significant in part because the kingdom has been talking with the White House about a possible move to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. That would be a massive geopolitical shift in the region. It has drawn praise in many quarters, but condemnation in others - notably in Iran.

RASCOE: And has there been any reaction to this attack from Iran?

KENYON: Yes. Iran's foreign ministry spokesman called the attack, quote, "a spontaneous move by the resistance groups and the oppressed Palestinian people in defense of" what he called their "undeniable rights." The Iranian spokesman pointed to Israeli visits to Islamic holy sites, notably the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, by groups that he called, quote, "extremist and racist Zionists." Now, both Israelis and Palestinians consider that site sacred, and Israelis say they have every right to visit.

Now, when it comes to Iran, many have condemned Tehran's support for terrorist groups. And some commentators are describing this Hamas attack as being carried out by Iran-backed terrorists. And as I mentioned, this all took place against the backdrop of a potential rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Now, Iranian media in recent months have been filled with articles condemning such a move and warning that it could thrust the region into chaos. Supporters of the move, on the other hand, contend that one of its positive effects would be to further isolate Iran from the international community.

RASCOE: What other reactions are you seeing?

KENYON: Well, King Abdullah II of Jordan spoke with President Joe Biden, and he called for stronger international efforts to stop the violence from escalating. At the Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, there was a different approach. It voiced solidarity with the Palestinians and was critical of what it called double standards by the international community when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And for Lebanon, for its part, launched an attack across Israel's northern border. Now, others echoed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, though. He said, quote, "we call for restraint from all parties," adding that they must refrain from aggressive acts.

Now, from beyond the region, of course, President Joe Biden has promised to make sure Israel has what it needs to defend itself. And China, deeply influential in the region, said it is concerned over the escalation of tensions and violence, adding that it shows once again that the standstill of the peace process cannot last.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Thank you so much for joining us.

KENYON: Thanks, Ayesha. 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.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.