President Biden on Monday discussed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the possibility of “tactical pauses” in Israel’s assault against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, as the U.S. faces increasing outrage for holding back from calling for a cease-fire.
The Biden administration is focusing on so-called pauses in Israel’s military operations to allow for increased deliveries of humanitarian aid into the besieged Gaza Strip, promote movement of civilians to safer areas, facilitate the exit of Americans and other foreign nationals and negotiate the release of hostages.
“The two leaders discussed the possibility of tactical pauses to provide civilians with opportunities to safely depart from areas of ongoing fighting, to ensure assistance is reaching civilians in need, and to enable potential hostage releases,” the White House said in a readout of the call between Biden and Netanyahu.
The Israeli prime minister last week rejected the idea of a temporary cease-fire, shortly after meeting Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who had raised the issue of a “humanitarian pause.”
“I made clear that we are continuing full force and that Israel refuses a temporary cease-fire, which does not include the release of our hostages,” Netanyahu said in televised remarks reported by Reuters.
White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby on Monday reiterated the administration’s position that it opposes calling for Israel to implement a “general cease-fire” because they think it will benefit Hamas.
“We don’t support a general cease-fire. We do support temporary localized humanitarian pauses in the fighting for discreet purposes, such as aid, or hostage release or safe passage of civilians from one area to the next,” he said in a press call with reporters.
The Biden administration is growing increasingly isolated in its support for Israel’s military operations in Gaza nearly one month since Hamas launched an unprecedented attack against Israel’s southern communities. An estimated 3,000 Hamas fighters flooded into Israel and massacred more than 1,000 civilians and hundreds of soldiers, and they took captive at least 240 people, who remain unaccounted for in the Gaza Strip.
Israel’s retaliatory airstrikes have devastated the Gaza Strip, with the Gaza Ministry of Health reporting Monday that the death toll has now topped 10,000, including thousands of women and children. The Biden administration has accused Hamas of hiding behind civilians, compounding the risk to Gaza’s population.
Kirby said Monday he couldn’t verify the casualty figures coming out of Gaza.
“We obviously recognize and have said publicly that many, many thousands have been killed and many more injured and or wounded in this conflict,” Kirby said.
“And each and every death is a tragedy, each and every death ought to be prevented to the maximum extent possible. But I can’t verify that specific death toll number coming out of the [Gaza] Ministry of Health.”
The administration has put further blame on Hamas for blocking the movement of civilians out of conflict zones in Gaza. A U.S. official said last week that the U.S.-designated terrorist group sought to include their own injured fighters on a list of wounded civilians to be evacuated from the Strip as part of efforts to address the humanitarian crisis.
Some Democratic lawmakers have called for the president to push for a cease-fire. But the administration is most acutely isolated among Arab leaders in the region, who are key to efforts at engaging with Hamas. Leaders from Egypt, Jordan and Qatar along with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are pressing the U.S. to call for a cease-fire.
“The Arab countries, the Arab world demand an immediate cease-fire that will end this war and end the killing of the innocent and the destruction it is causing,” Jordan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said in Arabic alongside Blinken on Saturday.
“And we don’t accept that it is a self-defense,” he added. “The killing must stop, and also Israel [being] immune from committing war crimes must stop.”
Source: The Hill