Warns: US does not seek conflict with Iran, but will respond

Blinken urges considering ‘humanitarian pauses’ in Gaza fighting to protect civilians

US secretary of state says many world leaders express support for Israel in private but won’t publicly endorse its right to defend itself, or denounce Hamas terror group

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, October 24, 2023. (Seth Wenig/AP)
United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, October 24, 2023. (Seth Wenig/AP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken Blinken urged members of the UN Security Council on Tuesday to consider “humanitarian pauses” in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza in order to protect Palestinian civilians.

The remark was the first time a US official has publicly called for any sort of stoppage to the fighting. The proposal falls short of a ceasefire, which US officials have rejected in recent days as a step that would amount to help for Hamas, arguing that Israel still has a right to forcefully respond in order to ensure that it cannot repeat its October 7 massacres in Israeli communities.

“Palestinian civilians must be protected. That means Hamas must cease using them as human shields. It’s hard to think of an act of greater cynicism,” Blinken said during the ministerial Security Council gathering to discuss the Gaza war.

“It means Israel must take all possible precautions to avoid harm to civilians. It means food, water, medicine and other essential humanitarian assistance must be able to flow into Gaza and to the people who need it. It means civilians must be able to get out of harm’s way. It means humanitarian pauses must be considered for these purposes,” the secretary of state added.

Along with its military campaign, Israel has imposed a near-total blockade of Gaza, though some humanitarian aid has been permitted to enter from Egypt in recent days under a US-brokered deal.

“But [that] is a drop of aid in an ocean of need,” US Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at the meeting and cautioned that if Gaza runs out of fuel it will be a “disaster.”

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, October 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The UN has warned that hospitals and other vital services in the Palestinian territory risked shutting down without fuel deliveries.

Israel worries that Hamas would use fuel brought into Gaza to manufacture weapons and explosives and says that the terror group has already stolen fuel intended for humanitarian purposes.

Blinken went on to call out much of the international community for failing to explicitly condemn the October 7 Hamas terror onslaught that killed over 1,400 people in Israel, the vast majority of them civilians.

Blinken said that in his conversations with world leaders since the assault, there has been agreement that countries have a right and obligation to respond to terror attacks against their civilians, but indicated that not all of them have publicly acknowledged such support for Israel.

“It must be asked: Where’s the outrage? Where’s the revulsion? Where’s the rejection? Where’s the explicit condemnation of these horrors?” Blinken asked, referring to Hamas atrocities committed during its assault.

On October 7, Hamas abruptly bombarded Israel with thousands of rockets while over 2,500 gunmen breached the border with the Gaza Strip. The terrorists rampaged murderously through southern areas slaughtering those they found, butchering entire families in some communities and also killing 260 at an outdoor music festival. Some victims were mutilated, raped, and tortured. Dozens of children were killed. Before the IDF could counter the invasion, over 220 people of all ages were abducted and dragged back to Gaza as captives. Four have since been released.

The secretary called on countries to do everything in their power to secure the release of the remaining hostages in Gaza.

Israel has responded to the Hamas assault by vowing to destroy the terror group and launching intensive strikes in Gaza, saying it is hitting terror targets while trying to avoid civilian casualties. It has told over one million Gaza residents to evacuate the northern part of the Strip ahead of an expected ground incursion. Hamas has continued to rain rockets on southern and central Israel while also attempting further terror infiltrations.

Israeli soldiers remove bodies of Israeli civilians in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, near the Israeli-Gaza border, in southern Israel, October 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The Hamas-controlled Health Ministry says the Israeli strikes have killed over 5,700 Palestinians so far. Those numbers cannot be independently verified and are believed to include Hamas’s own members, as well as civilians killed by misfired Palestinian rockets.

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, October 23, 2023. (AP Photo/ Ariel Schalit)

Another concern is that Iran’s proxies in Lebanon and Syria will try to open northern fronts in the war against Israel. There have been repeated deadly skirmishes between the IDF and the Hezbollah terror group along the Lebanese border as well as rocket attacks on northern bases and civilian communities. Rockets have also been fired from Syria.

US troops have been attacked in Iraq and in Syria with drones and rockets in separate incidents over the past week. A group of Iranian-backed militias in Iraq warned that US forces “must leave immediately” or their bases in Iraq and elsewhere in the region will continue to come under attack.

Blinken told the Security Council that while the US does not seek conflict with Iran, it will respond if Tehran or its proxies attack US personnel. “Make no mistake. We will defend our people. We will defend our security swiftly and decisively.”

Israeli troops are seen in northern Israel, next to the border with Lebanon. October 24, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

Blinken urged Security Council members to call out Iran for its malign regional activity and to warn it, as Washington has, not to open another front against Israel.

“Act as if the security and stability of the entire region and beyond is on the line, because it is,” Blinken told members.

He closed by urging members to “redouble our collective effort” to work toward a two-state solution following the outbreak of the war in Gaza.

“The only road to lasting peace and security in the region, the only way to break out of this horrific cycle of violence is through two states for two peoples,” Blinken said, acknowledging that it will be difficult.

“Nothing would be a greater victory for Hamas, than allowing its brutality to send us down the path of terrorism and nihilism. We must not let it. Hamas does not get to choose for us,” Blinken said, adding that the path the US and the world should choose is one where the region is more integrated and “normalized” — hinting at efforts to broker an Israel-Saudi agreement.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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