- 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 to Gaza thousands of Palestinian workers 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 preventing the escalation and spread of the Israeli-Hamas conflict was the top priority after he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s war cabinet in Tel Aviv.
Following the meeting, Blinken outlined for reporters 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 took 230 hostages and killed 1,400 people in that attack.
Blinken said, again, the U.S. stands behind Israel’s right “and obligation” to defend itself. He added that the U.S. believes it is vitally important Israel does so with the highest regard for the protection of civilians. He cited doing more to protect Palestinian civilians as the second priority.
“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. “There will be no partners for peace if they’re consumed by humanitarian catastrophe and alienated by any perceived indifference to their plight.”
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.
Blinken cited “substantially and immediately increase the sustained flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza and getting American citizens and other foreign nationals out of Gaza” as the third priority.
Blinken said 100 trucks a day are now entering the area through the Rafah border crossing from Egypt, but it is still not enough. He said Israel indicated it was committed to enabling increased aid into the area.
The secretary of state noted humanitarian pauses in fighting would be important in achieving all these goals. He also discussed how any pauses might be tied to the release of hostages, emphasizing the U.S. is committed to their safe release.
But after meeting with Secretary Blinken, Netanyahu said there would be no humanitarian pauses until the hostages are released. He told reporters, “We’re continuing with all our force and Israel is refusing a temporary truce that doesn’t include the release of our hostages.”
Blinken was asked about threats made Friday by Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah to widen the conflict by escalating cross-border fighting with Israel.
“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.
“President [Joe] Biden said on day one to anyone thinking of opening a second front, taking advantage of the situation … don’t,” said Blinken.
The secretary also reiterated the U.S. continues to believe the only path to a lasting peace in the region is a two-state solution.
“That’s the only guarantor of a secure Jewish and democratic Israel,” Blinken said, “the only guarantor of Palestinians realizing their legitimate right to live in a state of their own, enjoying equal measures of security, freedom, opportunity and dignity. The only way to end a cycle of violence once and for all.”
Protest by hostages’ families
Earlier 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.
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 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.
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.
War crimes concerns from U.N.
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.