'Much more needs to be done to protect civilians'

Blinken says ‘far too many Palestinians have been killed’ in Israel-Hamas war

Top American diplomat calls for more humanitarian aid and fuel to enter Gaza, praises Israeli decision to implement daily pauses in fighting: ‘These steps will save lives’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the media at the end of the India-US '2+2' ministerial dialogue in New Delhi on November 10, 2023. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool/AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the media at the end of the India-US '2+2' ministerial dialogue in New Delhi on November 10, 2023. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool/AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday called for more to be done to keep civilians in Gaza safe and funnel humanitarian assistance to them, renewing pressure on Israel a day after it met a key US request by implementing pauses in its offensive against Hamas.

Blinken, speaking on the sidelines of the US-India Ministerial Dialogue in New Delhi, also called to further increase the number of trucks carrying aid into the Strip daily, and reiterated Washington’s desire for Gaza to not run out of fuel.

“Much more needs to be done to protect civilians and to make sure that humanitarian assistance reaches them,” Blinken told reporters.

“Far too many Palestinians have been killed; far too many have suffered these past weeks, and we want to do everything possible to prevent harm to them and to maximize the assistance that gets to them,” he said.

“There is more that can and should be done,” Blinken added, without mentioning Israel.

On Thursday, Israel said it would formalize and broaden localized pauses in the fighting, building on the humanitarian corridor that the Israel Defense Forces began operating on Sunday to allow Palestinians to evacuate from northern to southern Gaza, away from the most intense areas of fighting.

Soldiers seen during a ground operation in the Gaza Strip, in a handout photo published November 10, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Blinken expressed his appreciation for the Israeli decision to implement the daily, four-hour humanitarian pauses, along with the opening of escape corridors to southern Gaza.

“These steps will save lives and will enable more assistance to get to Palestinians in need,” he said.

The US had placed heavy pressure on Israel to implement the pauses, while also shielding Jerusalem from calls in the international community for a ceasefire that would be more permanent and widespread.

Israel has vowed to press its offensive until it has eliminated Hamas, after the Gaza-ruling terror group carried out a series of massacres on October 7 that left some 1,200 people dead, with another 240 abducted into Gaza.

Blinken said the US has put together a series of “basic principles” that will guide its post-war peace effort for Gaza, including preventing any forcible displacement of Palestinians; not allowing the enclave to be used to launch terror attacks against Israel; maintaining its territorial integrity; and committing to restoring unified Palestinian-led governance in the Strip and the West Bank.

He did not mention US opposition to a post-war siege or blockade of the Strip, as he did earlier this week, but a US envoy reading a prepared speech at the UN Security Council hours later included this stance in the list of “basic principles” listed to members of the top UN panel.

Israeli security forces inspect charred vehicles burned in the bloody Oct. 7 cross-border attack by Hamas militants outside the town of Netivot, southern Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Israel does not appear to be on board with some of the principles, however, with officials such as Foreign Minister Eli Cohen indicating the IDF could create a buffer zone within Gaza to prevent future attacks, shrinking the territory’s area.

Blinken said that the US had “a concrete way forward” that will allow more trucks of humanitarian aid into Gaza and ensure “an adequate supply of fuel” to power hospitals and desalination plants.

Israel has objected to fuel shipments to the Strip, citing fears that it could be commandeered by Hamas to aid its fight against Israel. It has however said that it could transfer fuel to hospitals that run out.

Blinken’s comments came as Israel has recently ramped up the pace of trucks of humanitarian aid entering the Strip, meeting a US request for 100 trucks a day.

Amid criticism that the Biden administration had been paying mere lip service to the two-state solution before the war, Blinken asserted that the US has “long been committed to two states.”

The criticism was bolstered after Foreign Affairs published a print version of an article written by US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan before the October 7 onslaught, which boasted US efforts to maintain calm in the Middle East, while not making any mention of the two-state solution. The online version, which went live after the deadly Hamas onslaught, removed a line claiming the region is the quietest it’s been in decades and added a line about the importance of a two-state solution.

“When we came to office, the conditions certainly didn’t look like they were ripe to advance that in the moment. We first needed to try to make sure that there was as much calm as possible, and then to try to build from there,” the secretary said.

This picture taken from the Israeli side of the border with the Gaza Strip on November 10, 2023, shows smoke rising above buildings during an Israeli strike on the northern part of the Palestinian enclave(Photo by Jack Guez / AFP)

He noted that over the last two and a half years, the US has pushed back on moves by Israel to expand settlements, legalize wildcat outposts, demolish Palestinian homes, evict Palestinians, harm the status quo at Jerusalem holy sites, and spoken out against settler violence.

Blinken pointed to regional meetings the US organized in Egypt and Jordan earlier this year that brought together Israeli and Palestinian leaders for political and economic discussions, which were the first of their kind in over a decade.

He also highlighted efforts the US has made to advance Israel’s integration in the region, including talks with Saudi Arabia to normalize relations with the Jewish state that the sides said were rapidly advancing before the war broke out. Blinken insisted those negotiations were not “a substitute for a Palestinian state but actually as a way to advance it.”

“But now we’ve had… almost beyond the human imagination the horror of October 7th. That only reinforces us in our conviction and our commitment to durable and lasting peace, which again, we see through two states,” Blinken said.

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