Biden administration to pressure Israel to take ‘pauses’ in war against Hamas

By | November 3, 2023

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will urge the Israeli government to agree to a series of brief cessations of military operations in Gaza to allow for the safe release of hostages and the distribution of humanitarian aid, officials said Thursday. White House.

The message comes as President Biden revealed on Wednesday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had previously agreed to briefly suspend bombing on October 20 to allow the release of two Americans, Judith Raanan, 59, and her daughter, Natalie Raanan, 17.

The push for what U.S. officials call “humanitarian pauses” is one of several topics Mr. Blinken will raise with Mr. Netanyahu and other officials when he arrives in Israel on Friday for a new round of diplomatic talks in a context of fierce fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas. group that controls Gaza.

Speaking to reporters before boarding a plane en route to the Middle East, Blinken said part of his mission would be to ensure civilians in Gaza are protected as Israel carries out its war.

“We have seen in recent days Palestinian civilians continue to bear the brunt of this action,” the secretary of state said. “And it’s important that the United States commits to doing everything possible to protect civilians.”

At the White House, Mr. Biden said that some of the dual American citizens who had tried to leave Gaza since the start of the war had been able to cross into Egypt.

“Good news: We got 74 dual-citizen Americans out today,” he said.

White House officials said the request for pauses was very different from a comprehensive ceasefire, which the Biden administration said would benefit Hamas by allowing it to recover from Israel’s intense bombardment.

But Mr Biden is under increasing pressure to respond as Gaza residents struggle to find food, water, medicine and fuel. A strike on a refugee camp in Gaza this week killed dozens of people even as Israeli officials said it had killed a senior Hamas leader.

At a fundraiser in Minneapolis on Wednesday evening, a protester confronted Mr. Biden and asked him to call a ceasefire. “I think we need a pause,” Mr. Biden responded, adding: “A pause means giving time to get the prisoners out.” »

The president then revealed the previously agreed break for the two American hostages, using a common nickname to refer to Mr Netanyahu.

“I was the one who convinced Bibi to call this ceasefire to let the prisoners out,” Mr. Biden said. National security officials later said that despite the president’s use of the word “ceasefire,” he was talking about a brief pause in Israeli bombing, not a broader end to hostilities .

Mr. Biden’s comments come a week after Mr. Blinken delivered a similar message to the United Nations Security Council.

“Israel must take every possible precaution to avoid harm to civilians,” the secretary of state said. “This means that food, medicine, water and other aid must flow to Gaza and to areas where people need it. This means that civilians must be able to get out of harm’s way. This means that humanitarian pauses should be considered for these purposes.

This message echoes what some humanitarian aid groups have said in recent days. The latest statement from the International Rescue Committee called for such pauses to help ensure the safety of aid workers as they tried to help deliver supplies to Gaza.

“This would enable the delivery of humanitarian supplies and allow staff to assess needs and provide assistance,” the group said. “It could also allow the evacuation of the sick and injured who cannot be treated inside Gaza, and allow negotiations for the release of hostages. »

U.S. pressure for the pauses is unlikely to satisfy Israel’s critics, some of whom are members of the president’s party. Several Democratic lawmakers in the House introduced a resolution “calling for immediate de-escalation and a cease-fire in Israel and occupied Palestine.”

Catherine Russell, the executive director of UNICEF, on Thursday demanded a humanitarian ceasefire that would protect civilians in Gaza, especially children.

“Four hundred children are reportedly killed and injured every day in Gaza, so any measure to end the violence, even temporarily, is positive,” she said. “But it’s not enough.”

But administration officials say more limited pauses could help resolve humanitarian problems in Gaza, without stopping Israel from responding to the massacre of more than 1,400 people in the Gaza Strip. Hamas attacks on October 7.

“What we have said should be considered and explored are temporary, localized humanitarian pauses to allow aid to get to specific populations and perhaps even to help with the evacuation of people who want to get out, move further south” from Gaza, John F. Kirby, a National Security Council spokesman, said Monday. “We support that. We do not support a ceasefire at this time.

White House officials said they were advocating pauses limited by location and duration for two reasons: the possibility of future hostage releases and the urgent need to clear the way for transportation and distribution aid to Palestinians living in Gaza.

Officials said negotiations were continuing for the release of additional hostages, with Qatari representatives acting as mediators. If those negotiations are successful, the officials said they would urge Israel to agree to cease its operations in the area where Hamas is preparing to release the hostages.

That’s what happened on Oct. 20, officials said. Mr. Netanyahu agreed to guarantee that there would be no bombings in the area where the Red Crescent picked up the two American women. This hiatus ended shortly after the women’s liberation.

U.S. officials also expressed concern about the delivery of humanitarian aid, which is beginning to arrive in Gaza on trucks entering through the Rafah Gate on the Gaza-Egypt border.

The problem, officials say, is that trucks must be able to deliver aid safely to neighborhoods without risking being hit by an Israeli airstrike or caught in the middle of fighting on the ground. And the official said aid is of no use if residents in a neighborhood are too afraid to leave their homes to get food or water.

Mr. Blinken will urge Israel to consider brief pauses to allow the safe passage of humanitarian trucks.

White House officials said Mr. Netanyahu and other Israeli officials remained opposed to a blanket ceasefire but appeared receptive to the idea of ​​further pauses in fighting toward that end.

Ron Dermer, one of Mr. Netanyahu’s top advisers, told reporters this week that Israel had briefly ceased operations twice in parts of Gaza to facilitate the evacuation of hostages freed by Hamas. But it was a “temporary cessation of operations in order to physically bring your hostages to safety,” he said, not a compromise on Israel’s goal of dismantling Hamas.

“If there is going to be a proposal to release our hostages, we will obviously do everything in our power to ensure that they can get safely to where they need to go,” Mr Dermer said.

On Thursday, Mr. Kirby said the United States would continue to work with Mr. Netanyahu and the Israeli government in the days to come.

“We’ve already been able to work with him to help Americans get out,” Mr. Kirby said. “So we certainly hope that this type of cooperation continues. But each instance, each effort to get a break will be unique in its own way. And this is going to require negotiations and diplomacy.

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