U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken returns to Israel this Friday on his third visit to the country in three weeks. And he does so with a specific mission: among other things, he will call on the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to implement brief but periodic humanitarian ceasefires in the intense bombardment campaign by Israeli forces against Gaza.
“What we’re trying to do is explore the idea of as many pauses as might be necessary to continue to get aid in and to continue to work to get people out safely, including hostages,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Thursday at the daily White House press briefing. These pauses, he specified, would have to be negotiated one by one. They would be “temporary [and] localized”, with very specific purposes: to introduce humanitarian aid into Gaza and allow the departure to Egypt of foreigners and wounded Palestinians blockaded until now in the enclave.
President Joe Biden also indicated on Thursday, during a meeting with the President of the Dominican Republic, Luis Abinader, that so far 74 Americans have managed to pass through the Rafah border crossing, the only one that connects Gaza with Egypt. The White House expects that others will also be able to leave in the coming days.
The United States rejects the idea of a ceasefire, which it claims would only benefit Hamas, since it would allow it to recover from the effects of the intense bombings launched by its enemy. However, it does favor pauses to allow the entry of medicine, food, water and other humanitarian goods, and to allow hostages held by the radical Palestinian militia to be released safely. Blinken himself presented the idea to the United Nations last week at a special session of the Security Council on developments in the Strip.
Biden has also declared himself in favor. This Wednesday, during a campaign event in Minnesota, he revealed that Netanyahu had already given the go-ahead for a temporary suspension of the bombings on October 20 to allow for the release of two hostages with U.S. passports: Judith Raanan, 59, and her daughter Natalie, 17. “I think we need a pause. A pause means give time to get the prisoners out,” he declared during the fundraising event. “I’m the guy that convinced Bibi to call for a cease-fire to let the prisoners out,” the president added.
“What we have said should be considered and explored are temporary, localized humanitarian pauses to allow aid to get to specific populations and maybe even to help with the evacuation of people that want to get out, move more to the south,” Kirby declared on Monday.
Washington is under pressure, both internationally and from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and Muslim communities, to respond to what the U.N. has described as a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions in Gaza, triggered by Israeli bombing in retaliation for Hamas attacks on its territory on October 7. More than 9,000 people have been killed in the Israeli attacks, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health. Water, medicine, food and fuel are in short supply and there is no electricity or internet. While repeated shelling of the Jabaliya refugee camp has left dozens dead.
Several Democratic legislators have introduced a bill in the House of Representatives calling for an “immediate ceasefire in Israel and occupied Palestine”.
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