Blinken stresses to Red Cross chief that access must be granted to hostages in Gaza

Report says ICRC representatives rebuked family of Israeli woman abducted by terrorists, told them to ‘think about the Palestinian side’

Relatives and friends of hostages held in the Gaza Strip call for their release during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah in the Hostages Square at the Museum of Art, in Tel Aviv, December 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Relatives and friends of hostages held in the Gaza Strip call for their release during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah in the Hostages Square at the Museum of Art, in Tel Aviv, December 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that the humanitarian organization must be allowed to visit the hostages in the Gaza Strip, the US State Department said Saturday.

According to the statement, Blinken “emphasized the importance of ICRC’s humanitarian response to the conflict in Gaza” between Israel and Hamas during a conversation Thursday with ICRC President Mirjana Spoljaric Egger.

The statement said Blinken and Spoljaric “discussed efforts to strengthen civilian protections and expand the flow of humanitarian assistance throughout Gaza,” with the American diplomat hailing the Red Cross “for delivering life-saving assistance and protection for civilians.”

Blinken also reiterated the call for the immediate release of all hostages that Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups abducted in the deadly October 7 onslaught and highlighted the need for the ICRC to be granted access to the remaining hostages, the US State Department said.

There was no statement from the Red Cross on the call.

The ICRC has faced intense criticism in Israel and abroad for not doing more to push for access to the hostages held by terrorists in Gaza to ensure their well-being, deliver medications and facilitate communication with families, per its mandate.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, the parents of hostage Doron Steinbrecher were contacted this week by ICRC representatives, who they believed would help get their daughter her daily medication.

The ICRC representatives, however, reportedly instead rebuked them and talked about the suffering of Palestinians.

“Think about the Palestinian side,” the ICRC representatives were quoted as saying. “It’s tough for the Palestinians, they’re being bombed.”

Doron Steinbrecher was alone in her Kibbutz Kfar Aza apartment on October 7 when Hamas terrorists swooped in, presumably taking her captive (Courtesy)

The Kan report and Blinken’s call with Spoljaric came after the ICRC chief visited Gaza earlier in the week, calling for the protection of civilians in the Strip and declaring the human suffering there to be “intolerable.”

“It is unacceptable that civilians have no safe place to go in Gaza, and with a military siege in place there is also no adequate humanitarian response currently possible,” Spoljaric wrote on X.

Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza was launched following the deadly October 7 attack in which thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst through the border fence, unleashing death and destruction across much of southern Israel as they killed more than 1,200 people and seized some 240 hostages.

In response, Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas from the Gaza Strip, which the terror group has ruled since 2007. The IDF launched an aerial campaign and subsequent ground operation which began in northern Gaza and has started expanding to the south in recent days.

The Hamas-run health ministry has said that at least 17,700 people have been killed since October 7, most of them civilians. However, the numbers cannot be independently verified and are believed to include members of Hamas and other terror groups, as well as civilians killed by misfired Palestinian rockets.

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and the families of Gaza hostages meet with ICRC chief Mirjana Spoljaric Egger in Geneva, Switzerland on November 14, 2023. (International Red Cross)

While in Gaza, Spoljaric also insisted “all those deprived of liberty must be treated humanely.”

“The hostages must be released, and the ICRC must be allowed to safely visit them,” she said.

A temporary seven-day truce between Israel and Hamas that ended earlier this month saw the release of 105 of the hostages, most of them women and children, leaving 138 people still in captivity in Gaza. While Israel had said that one of the stipulations of the ceasefire deal was that the Red Cross would visit all remaining hostages, the organization has yet to do so.

In November, Spoljaric met with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Qatar for discussions. Her office later said that the “ICRC has persistently called for the immediate release of hostages.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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