- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he stressed preventing escalation of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, doing more to protect Palestinians and substantially increasing aid to Gaza, when he met Friday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Netanyahu’s war Cabinet.
- Israel is sending back to Gaza thousands of Palestinian workers who were trapped in Israel after the Hamas attack on Israel.
- 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 Gaza.
- U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin paused military support for congressional travel to Israel and is restricting many senior leaders from visiting as well.
- U.N. expresses concern over deadly Israeli strikes around the Jabaliya refugee camp, saying they “could amount to war crimes.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that preventing the escalation and spread of the nearly monthlong Israel-Hamas conflict was the top priority after he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s war Cabinet in Tel Aviv.
After the meeting, Blinken outlined for reporters the steps that must be taken to ensure an attack like the one on Oct. 7 never happens again and to ensure a “better tomorrow” for the people of Israel and Palestinians.
“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,” Blinken said.
“There will be no partners for peace if they’re consumed by humanitarian catastrophe and alienated by any perceived indifference to their plight,” he added.
The United States stands behind Israel’s right “and obligation” to defend itself, Blinken said, but he also called for Israel to pause military operations and allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza. Protecting Palestinian civilians is the second priority of his trip, he said.
In response, Netanyahu said, “We’re continuing with all our force, and Israel is refusing a temporary truce that doesn’t include the release of our hostages.” U.S.-designated terror group Hamas took 230 hostages and killed 1,400 people in its attack.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been left homeless by Israeli airstrikes in response to the Hamas terror attack. The Hamas-run health ministry said Friday the death toll in the enclave has topped 9,250, the United Nations reported.
Blinken said 100 trucks a day are now entering the area through the Rafah border crossing from Egypt, but it is still not enough. Aid needed to increase “substantially and immediately” into Gaza, he said, adding that getting American citizens and other foreign nationals out of Gaza is his third priority. He said Israel indicated it was committed to enabling increased aid into the area.
Blinken was asked about a speech made Friday by Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
Nasrallah denied any involvement in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel and did not announce an intention to enter the war, saying that in effect Hezbollah already had entered the war with its weekslong exchange of rocket and artillery fire with Israel.
“With regard to Lebanon, with regard to Hezbollah, with regard to Iran,” Blinken said, “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 spoke to reporters in Israel, noting the United States has deployed two aircraft carrier battle groups in the region as a deterrent to a widening conflict.
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.
Blinken is scheduled to meet Saturday with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi in Amman. 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.
Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has issued a memo pausing military support for congressional travel to Israel and restricting visits by many senior military leaders.
A senior defense official, speaking to VOA on condition of anonymity, said the decision was made because extra travel in a dangerous war environment would place “unnecessary risk and undue burden on our forces.”
In other developments Friday, Israel began sending back to Gaza thousands of Palestinian workers who were stranded in Israel following the Hamas attack.
Meanwhile, more foreign nationals who were trapped in Gaza since the start of the war were expected to leave the territory 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.