Meeting PM, Blinken stresses Israel must ensure protection of Gaza civilians before expanding op to south

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

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the latter's office in Jerusalem on November 30, 2023. (GPO)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the latter's office in Jerusalem on November 30, 2023. (GPO)

Meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier today in Jerusalem, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated the Biden administration’s call for the IDF to account for Gaza’s civilians before it expands its ground operation into the southern portion of the Strip.

Blinken “stressed the imperative of accounting for humanitarian and civilian protection needs in southern Gaza before any military operations there,” the US readout says, adding that the secretary “urged Israel to take every possible measure to avoid civilian harm.”

This message has increasingly intensified over the past several weeks, as the US fears another spike in civilian deaths, given that southern and central Gaza now contains 80% of the enclave’s residents after Israel directed over one million Palestinians to leave northern Gaza to avoid being caught in the crosshairs of fighting in the north.

On Tuesday, NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby told reporters, “We don’t support southern operations unless or until the Israelis can show that they have accounted for all the internally displaced people of Gaza.”

US President Joe Biden has been coming under significant pressure from the far-left flank of the Democratic Party to take a harder stance on Israel due to the high death toll in Gaza. The Hamas-run health ministry says over 14,000 have died, though those numbers cannot be independently verified and include Palestinian terrorists killed by Israel along with Palestinian civilians killed by errant rocket fire from within Gaza.

Blinken clarified that the US still “supports Israel’s right to protect itself from terrorist violence in compliance with international humanitarian law.”

Netanyahu and Blinken also “discussed efforts to secure the release of all remaining hostages and the need to accelerate the delivery of critical, life-saving humanitarian assistance to Gaza.”

The US has pushed for extending the ongoing truce between Israel and Hamas to advance both of those goals.

Blinken again raised the need for Israel to take “immediate steps to hold settler extremists accountable for violence against Palestinians in the West Bank.” Earlier this month, US President Joe Biden threatened to issue visa bans against violent settlers

“Blinken reiterated that the United States remains committed to tangible steps to advance a Palestinian state living in peace, freedom, and security alongside Israel,” the readout says, stopping short of expressly calling for a two-state solution as other US readouts have done over the past month.

While in Israel, Blinken has met with Israel’s war cabinet and with President Isaac Herzog.

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