Blinken: Too many Palestinians have died 3:07

(CNN) -- Israel is taking some "important steps" to better protect civilians during its offensive in southern Gaza, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday on CNN's "King Charles."

In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with Charles Barkley and Gayle King, the top U.S. diplomat suggested that Israeli forces are heeding his call to operate differently in this phase of the war with Hamas than in northern Gaza.

"I told them very clearly when I was there just a week ago: We cannot repeat what happened in the north and in the south in terms of harm to civilians," Blinken said.

"What we are seeing are areas clearly designated by Israel that are safe, where there will be no shooting or military. We've seen efforts to make sure people know they need to move, and not citywide, but just in low-key neighborhoods. That's positive," Blinken said.

Still, Blinken said more needs to be done, describing the huge civilian death toll in war-torn Gaza as "heartbreaking."

advertising

  • Israel-Hamas War Live: Gaza Fighting, Civilian Plight and More

He called for the establishment of "safe corridors" for civilians to move "from areas that might be in danger to places where they will be safe," and stressed the need for those places to have enough food, water and medicine.

The Biden administration interacts with the Israeli government "every day," Blinken said. And they're working "on a daily basis... or sometimes even hourly" to restart negotiations to bring home the remaining hostages held by Hamas.

"It's not a matter of numbers. These are real people, real lives, real families whose lives have been turned upside down. I have photographs of all of them," Blinken revealed.

"It's real to me, it's real to the president and we're in this. Unfortunately, Hamas gets the vote. And Hamas stopped releasing hostages. It reneged on its commitments to Israel and to all other stakeholders," he said. "The bottom line is that they decided to end this hostage release process. They must choose to start over."

Teen spent weeks in captivity in Gaza with her dog 1:17

Personal Resonance

Blinken, who is Jewish and the stepson of a Holocaust survivor, described his own horror at the brutal images and videos of Hamas atrocities.

"When I saw what happened on October 7, of course it had a personal resonance. It had a resonance that runs through the history of the Jewish people, especially because of the nature, the savagery of the attacks that were committed," he told Charles and King.

Blinken also described the rise of anti-Semitism on college campuses as "deeply disturbing."

"That's something that, you know, isn't entirely new, but it kind of came to light from under the rock since Oct. 7," he said.

"I'm also deeply troubled by the same kind of hatred and vitriol directed against American Muslims and Arab Americans," Blinken added. "We see this in all different directions and we need to get back to a place where people on all of our campuses can feel safe being who they are, who they are and saying what they believe."

Asked what advice he would give on how people with different views can discuss the war with respect, the top U.S. diplomat said, "What we need to stop is the dehumanization of the other."

"We have to recognize the humanity in each other. We have to try to put ourselves in other people's shoes. We have to have that open-mindedness and open-heartedness. And when you have that, you can talk about anything, even the hardest things," he said.

  • Israel's current ground operation in Gaza could end in January, U.S. officials say

More broadly, the top U.S. diplomat acknowledged that U.S. engagement on issues such as Ukraine and China may seem distant to the American people. However, he stressed that they have an impact on the people of the U.S.

"When we're not engaged, America, when we're not leading, usually one of two things happens," he said, pointing to another nation filling the vacuum or a leadership vacuum.

"And one way or another," he added, "that will come back and affect us and we'll end up having to do more, pay more, and maybe even suffer more if we let these things go."

And in that viral moment where he appeared to wince when President Joe Biden again called Chinese President Xi Jinping a "dictator," Blinken chalked it up to a long day.

"I'm tempted to say that we had a very long day, a very important and intense conversation with China. My neck was a little stiff. And you know, that happens," he said. "But look, as I said before, it's not exactly a secret that we have a very different system than ... China. The president always speaks very clearly, very directly and speaks for everyone."