- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he stressed preventing escalation of the conflict, doing more to protect Palestinians, and substantially increasing aid to Gaza during a meeting Friday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s war cabinet. He said humanitarian pauses would help accomplish each of those priorities.
- Israel is returning thousands of Palestinian workers to Gaza who were trapped in Israel, following the Hamas attack on Israelis.
- Israel says its troops have surrounded Gaza City amid diplomatic efforts to bring a halt to the fighting and address a worsening humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territory.
- U.S. President Joe Biden says 74 Americans were evacuated Thursday from Gaza to Egypt.
- U.N. expresses concern over deadly Israeli strikes around the Jabaliya refugee camp. The U.N. human rights office says, “We have serious concerns that these are disproportionate attacks that could amount to war crimes.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday the United States firmly supports Israel’s “right and obligation” to defend itself, while stressing more needs to be done to protect Palestinian civilians.
“We’ve been clear that as Israel conducts its campaign to defeat Hamas, how it does so matters. It matters because it’s the right and lawful thing to do. It matters because failure to do so plays into the hands of Hamas and other terror groups,” said Blinken in Tel Aviv. “There will be no partners for peace if they’re consumed by humanitarian catastrophe and alienated by any perceived indifference to their plight.”
The top U.S. diplomat made the comments to reporters following meetings with
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet on Friday.
Blinken outlined the steps that must be taken to ensure an attack like the one that occurred October 7 never happens again and to ensure a “better tomorrow” for both the people of Israel and Palestinians. U.S.-designated terror group Hamas killed took 230 hostages and killed 1,400 people in that attack.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been left homeless by Israeli airstrikes in response to the Hamas terror attack. The Hamas-run Palestinian health ministry said Thursday the death toll in the enclave has topped 9,000.
The top U.S. diplomat said more must be done to protect Palestinians and said he discussed in detail with the Israelis the importance of the way in which they conduct their campaign.
“Hamas doesn’t care one second or one iota for the welfare for the well-being of the Palestinian people. It cynically and monstrously uses them as human shields, putting its commanders in command posts, its weapons and ammunition within or beneath residential buildings, schools, mosques, hospitals,” said Blinken. “But civilians should not suffer the consequences for its inhumanity and its brutality. We provided Israel advice that only the best of friends can offer on how to minimize civilian deaths while still achieving its objectives of finding and finishing Hamas terrorists and their infrastructure of violence.”
Blinken also noted humanitarian aid for Gaza must be increased substantially. He said 100 trucks a day are now entering the area through the Rafah border crossing border from Egypt, but it is still not enough. He said Israel indicated they were committed to enabling increased aid into the area. He said humanitarian pauses in fighting would be important in achieving all these goals.
The secretary of state said they also discussed how any pauses might be tied to the release of hostages, stressing the U.S. is committed to seeing released safely.
Blinken also said Friday the conflict between Hammas and Israel cannot be allowed to escalate and spread.
“With regard to Lebanon, with regard to Hezbollah, with regard to Iran – we have been very clear from the outset that we are determined that there not be a second or third front opened in this conflict,” Blinken told reporters in Israel, noting the United States has deployed two aircraft carrier battle groups in the region as a deterrent to a widening conflict.
The secretary also reiterated that the U.S. continues to believe the only path to a lasting peace in the region is a two-state solution, with Palestinians living in a state of their own.
Earlier on Friday, Blinken met with Israeli President Isaac Herzog at Ben Gurion House, as families of Israelis still being held hostage by the militant group Hamas protested outside, calling for greater efforts to win the hostages’ release.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog said, “We are hearing outside the demonstration of the families. Our heart goes out to them. We understand it and want their immediate release.” Blinken also said the U.S. is determined to do everything possible to bring back the hostages.
Blinken is due to meet Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, in Amman on Saturday. Safadi said in a statement Israel must end the war on Gaza, where he said it is committing war crimes by bombing civilians and imposing a siege.
Earlier this week, Israel carried out airstrikes on the Jabaliya camp for Palestinian refugees in Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces say the airstrikes targeted a Hamas commander. Hamas has denied the presence of any commanders at the camp and said 195 civilians were killed in the strikes.
The U.N. human rights office said, “We have serious concerns that these are disproportionate attacks that could amount to war crimes.”
Blinken’s visit comes as Israeli ground troops have surrounded Gaza City amid wider diplomatic efforts to bring a halt to the Israeli-Hamas war so greater humanitarian aid can enter Gaza.
The United Nations and various aid agencies are warning of a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza unless greater amounts of aid are allowed to enter the territory. Israel imposed a total blockade on Gaza shortly after the Hamas attack. That and the relentless airstrikes have led to shortages of food, clean water and fuel in Gaza, home to some 2.3 million people.
In another development Friday, Israel began sending back thousands of Palestinian workers who were stranded in Israel following the Hamas attack almost a month ago.
Meanwhile, more foreign nationals who were trapped in Gaza since the start of the war are expected to leave the territory Friday through the Rafah border crossing into Egypt.
Hundreds of foreigners left Gaza through Rafah on Wednesday and Thursday, as did dozens of critically injured Palestinians.
The reopening of the Rafah border crossing to allow foreign passport holders to leave was part of a Qatari-brokered deal among Israel, Egypt and Hamas.
VOA Senior State Department Correspondent Cindy Saine and VOA U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this story. Some information also came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France Presse.