The Biden administration is pushing for more aid to get into Gaza and signaling Israel to “pause” its military offensive against Hamas militants amid concerns that days of heavy bombardment and a siege of the Palestinian enclave are creating a growing humanitarian disaster and raising the risk of a wider conflict.
President Joe Biden showed strong support for Israel at a news conference on Wednesday alongside Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. However, he also stated that humanitarian aid into Gaza should “increase,” that Israel should “do everything in its power to protect innocent civilians,” and that he denounced reports that “extremist” Israeli settlers in the West Bank were targeting Palestinians.
The president made his remarks one day after Secretary of State Anthony Blinken declared in public for the first time that “humanitarian pauses must be considered” in order to allow supplies of food, water, medication, and other necessities to reach Gaza.
A resolution at the U.N. Security Council advocating for humanitarian pauses was vetoed by the administration just last week, citing the need for additional time for diplomacy to work in order to guarantee relief delivery.
According to a U.S. official, the administration intentionally changed its terminology.
According to the person, the White House is now in favour of an indefinite “pause” to help people attempting to leave the enclave safely and to enable additional aid to reach Gaza.
The administration was trying to walk a fine line, the official said, balancing the need to support Israel and its right to defend itself after suffering a brutal surprise attack, while also acknowledging the need to create a window for the delivery of humanitarian aid.
The official stated that the Israelis are “hearing” and “actively discussing” the administration’s request for a humanitarian pause. Although no decision had been made, the person stated that the Israelis seemed “open” to pausing for their own talks to free the captives kidnapped by Hamas.
Administration officials stated that it is uncertain exactly how long a pause would last if Israel agreed to one.
We were unable to get in touch with the Israeli Embassy for comment at this time.
After the terrorists’ attack on Israel on October 7 that resulted in 1,400 deaths and more than 200 captured, the president and his administration have repeatedly justified Israel’s right to take military action against Hamas. However, the administration’s public pronouncements regarding the humanitarian crisis have become more urgent after more than two weeks of Israel’s unrelenting air campaign in the heavily populated Gaza Strip, as anger among Arab states grows.
Speaking at the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday, Blinken said that the U.S. believed every civilian life was “equally valuable.”
“There is no hierarchy when it comes to protecting civilian lives. A civilian is a civilian is a civilian, no matter his or her nationality, ethnicity, age, gender, faith,” Blinken said.
However, allies of the United States in the Middle East, including some who have secretly aided Israel, have denounced Israel for its actions in Gaza and disagreed with Washington’s portrayal of the situation.
In a speech in Cairo over the weekend, Jordan’s King Abdullah II accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza. “The relentless bombing campaign underway in Gaza as we speak is cruel and unconscionable — on every level,” the king said, calling it “collective punishment of a besieged and helpless people.”
Russia, Jordan, and other Arab governments have backed calls for a rapid cease-fire; Israel and the US, on the other hand, have opposed the idea, claiming it would give Hamas more leverage after the group launched an attack on civilians in southern Israel.
At a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, the nations were unable to come to an agreement about the Gaza situation. Russia, China, and the United Arab Emirates opposed a resolution that the United States had crafted, which called for humanitarian pauses. A resolution supporting a cease-fire and backed by Russia, China, and the United Arab Emirates was rejected by the United States and the United Kingdom.
At his news conference at the White House, Biden also used tough words to describe incidents in the West Bank in which Israeli settlers staged retaliatory attacks on Palestinians, saying the assaults had “to stop now.”
“I continue to be alarmed about extremist settlers attacking Palestinians in the West Bank,” Biden said, saying it amounted to “pouring gasoline on fire.”
“It has to stop,” said Biden. “They have to be held accountable.”
According to two administration sources, the White House is growingly concerned that some Israeli settlers’ actions may lead to the opening of a new front in the conflict along the West Bank.
The president’s strong language was intentional and designed to send a “crystal clear” message to anyone seeking to expand the conflict to reconsider, “given the possibility that tensions could spread and enflame violence further,” one of the officials said.
Since the Hamas attack on October 7, the White House has been concerned about the possibility of a broader battle; nevertheless, up until this past Wednesday, administration officials have concentrated on America’s enemies, cautioning Iran, for example, not to mobilise its proxies in the region. The president is now alerting people to the possibility that Israelis could start a larger conflict along the West Bank.
The president’s sharp words on Wednesday are the first time the Biden administration has expressly warned about the possibility that “extremist settler attacks” against Palestinian civilians could escalate the Israel-Hamas conflict, which broke out two and a half weeks ago.
“They’re trying to be more empathetic and sympathetic to the whole question of innocent Palestinians being attacked, killed and injured,” said Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator for the State Department. Miller said Biden’s remarks were “by any standard very strong.”
But on Wednesday, the president also questioned the number of Palestinian fatalities Hamas had claimed.
In the meantime, the UN, which is in charge of assistance operations in Gaza, issued a warning, stating that unless an embargo on gasoline, water, and electricity was eased, it would soon run out of fuel there and would have to reduce operations.
Hospital staff in Gaza reported that although Israeli airstrikes continued to batter the territory, they were finding it difficult to treat a huge number of wounded patients.
On Wednesday, Samantha Power, the director of the US Agency for International Development, had a conversation on the humanitarian situation in Gaza with representatives of the United Nations. Power “emphasised strong U.S. support for the protection of civilians in accordance with international humanitarian law, as well as for sustained and unhindered humanitarian access,” the State Department stated.
Last week, Blinken travelled around the Middle East in an attempt to broker an agreement to let humanitarian aid into Gaza and to keep foreign nationals out. The Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza is to be opened. Assistance organisations claim that many more humanitarian assistance trucks are required given the current crisis circumstances, even though some have been able to reach the border into Gaza.
“These deliveries are a drop in the bucket compared to the vast scale of needs,” Lynn Hastings, U.N. deputy special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, told the Security Council on Tuesday.