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US diplomats warn of lasting anti-American sentiment in Middle East

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(WASHINGTON) — The State Department has received multiple warnings from its posts in the Middle East during recent weeks about the lasting impact from U.S. messaging on the conflict in Gaza, triggering a meeting in Washington with intelligence agencies to evaluate the fallout, according to internal communications reviewed by ABC News and officials familiar with the matter.

One cable from the American mission in Morocco said that former collaborators in the country asserted that the U.S. had become “toxic” because the administration’s support for Israel after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack had been widely perceived as a “blank check for the Israeli response.”

“Criticism of the U.S. position has proven unshakeable despite significant adjustments to U.S. messaging to highlight the need to protect civilian lives,” the document, labeled sensitive but unclassified, continues.

The message also noted that Moroccan mass media has rarely covered U.S. initiatives to help Palestinians “including the movement of aid into Gaza or diplomatic pressure for Israel to avoid civilian casualties,” and that the mission’s social media accounts have been continuously flooded with “waves of unfollows or negative and abusive comments.”

Diplomats at other posts in the Middle East have voiced similar concerns, according to an official, who said posts in Muslim-majority countries in other areas of the world, such as Indonesia, have also voiced misgivings.

An enduring hit to U.S. popularity in the Middle East could have extensive implications for American diplomacy, including efforts to build a coalition of countries to help rebuild Gaza after the fighting subsides and encouraging the normalization of ties with Israel.

Additionally, the surge of anti-American sentiment could have negative impacts for U.S. businesses operating in the region and potentially inspire extremism, experts say.

But an official told ABC News that the White House and the intelligence community remains unconvinced that the response will persist, even as some State Department officials say it may take a generation to rebuild U.S. standing in some countries.

The department has also had to cancel multiple outreach events and in at least one instance, an honoree refused to accept an award from the administration due to the response to the conflict in Gaza, they added.

The White House has quietly ramped up efforts to address the domestic backlash to the war in Gaza during recent weeks, attempting to mend ties with Muslim and Arab American voters that could determine whether President Joe Biden wins a second term in office.

The White House deployed senior aides to Dearborn, Michigan, last week to meet with prominent members of the community last week, including Samantha Power, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, and John Finer, a deputy national security adviser.

Sources familiar with the engagements said the officials struck an apologetic tone, but that many local leaders still expressed anger towards Biden’s handling of the conflict.

On the international stage, the administration has slowly softened its vocal and unequivocal for Israel’s campaign as it has pressed on, frequently emphasizing the suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza caught in the crossfire.

“The past four months, as the war has raged, the Palestinian people have also suffered unimaginable pain and loss,” Biden said during remarks at the White House with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Monday.

“Too many of the over 27,000 Palestinians killed in this conflict have been innocent civilians and children, including thousands of children,” he added.

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