ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Backing Israeli assertion, US signals Red Cross will visit remaining hostages in Gaza

White House National Security Adviser Sullivan says he expects by end of Monday to have info on conditions of all abductees, appearing to confirm visits are part of truce deal

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

People gather with signs for a demonstration calling upon the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to take action for the release of hostages abducted by Palestinian terrorists on October 7 and currently held in the Gaza Strip, outside the ICRC offices in Tel Aviv on November 9, 2023. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
People gather with signs for a demonstration calling upon the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to take action for the release of hostages abducted by Palestinian terrorists on October 7 and currently held in the Gaza Strip, outside the ICRC offices in Tel Aviv on November 9, 2023. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan seemed on Sunday to confirm Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that the Red Cross would visit those Gaza hostages who are not being released in the current temporary truce deal.

Asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” whether the Red Cross has been able to see the hostages and about the condition of the 10 hostages with either US citizenship or a US Green Card, Sullivan responded that he did not currently know the conditions of all the hostages.

However, “as part of the agreement… by the end of the fourth day, that is by the end of tomorrow, we expect to have that information,” he revealed.

“It is part of the agreement that that be done by the Red Cross, and we expect that to be fulfilled,” Sullivan added, indicating that Red Cross staffers would visit the hostages and relay their conditions.

The Red Cross has repeatedly refused to confirm that it has been notified of this clause of the truce, but insists that it will visit the hostages if both parties agree that it should. Hamas has yet to publicly confirm having agreed to such visits, which Israel has repeatedly insisted is part of the deal.

The deal includes Hamas releasing at least 50 women and children kidnapped by terrorists during the October 7 massacres, in exchange for Israel freeing at least 150 security prisoners, all gradually during four days of ceasefire that can be extended by another day per 10 additional hostages released.

Also on Sunday, Sullivan was pressed on two American morning news interviews about US President Joe Biden’s response on Friday to a question about whether he supports growing calls from the far-left wing of the Democratic party to condition aid to Israel based on Jerusalem’s human rights record, particularly in the West Bank.

“That’s a worthwhile thought, but I don’t think if I started off with that we’d have ever gotten to where we are today. We have to take this one piece at a time,” Biden responded.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during the daily briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on November 13, 2023.. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)

Sullivan was pressed to clarify whether Biden supports the proposal and he indicated that the president does not.

“President Biden acknowledged the idea, but he went on to say that his approach, which was high-level private diplomacy, has actually generated results,” Sullivan said, pointing to the introduction of humanitarian aid into Gaza after Israel initially blocked any from entering for the first two weeks of the war; the exit of thousands of foreign nationals from the Strip, the first pause in the fighting, which is currently in its third day; and the first major hostage release.

Pressed whether Biden might be willing to support conditioning aid to Israel in the future, Sullivan refused to answer.

The US president’s response had raised some eyebrows, as the Biden administration to date has opposed efforts to condition aid to Israel beyond stipulations that already exist in all security assistance packages, which critics claim are not applied to the Jewish state.

Sullivan also said that the Biden administration wants Israel to “learn the lessons” of its ground incursion in northern Gaza and not begin operating in southern Gaza until it can ensure that Palestinian civilians can avoid the bombing.

President Joe Biden speaks to reporters in Nantucket, Mass., on November 26, 2023. (Stephanie Scarbrough/ AP)

Speaking with CBS’s “Face the Nation, Sullivan stressed that the US still supports Israel’s plans to continue its war against Hamas once the temporary ceasefire concludes.

“Ultimately, Israel is going to want to continue to conduct military operations against Hamas, particularly [against] the leadership of Hamas [who] were the architects of this brutal, bloody massacre — the worst massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust,” he said, pointing to a pledge by a senior Hamas official to continue perpetrating October 7th-style massacres until Israel is defeated.

However, Sullivan reiterated that the US only approves the IDF expanding its operation to the south of Gaza “after civilians have been accounted for, have the opportunity to be in safety, have access to humanitarian assistance and to be out of the way of any military operation that is conducted.”

The stance is the latest indication that the US thinks Israel has not done enough to protect civilians, as the death toll has climbed over 14,000 in Gaza, according to the Gaza health ministry. That number, however, cannot be confirmed; moreover, the Hamas-run institution does not differentiate between civilians and terrorists and includes in its tally civilians killed by errant Palestinian rocket fire, but claims the majority of those who have been killed are women and children.

Earlier this month, Biden was asked about Israel’s operations at Gaza City’s Shifa hospital where Hamas has placed one of its command centers. Biden defended Israel’s conduct there, but revealed that he felt differently about some of the IDF’s earlier operations.

“This is a different story than I believe was occurring before, an indiscriminate bombing,” Biden said then.

On Sunday, the US president said he was hopeful that the current temporary truce would be extended so that more hostages could be released. Israel has agreed to extend the four-day truce by an additional day for every extra 10 Israeli hostages released.

Biden said he has pushed for a pause for weeks in order to get hostages out of Gaza and more humanitarian aid into the Strip. Roughly 200 trucks of aid have entered Gaza during the past three days of the truce, the president added.

He noted that “innocent children in Gaza are suffering greatly as well because of this war that Hamas has unleashed,” leading to the deaths of thousands of civilians.

“All players in the region” are looking for the Israel-Hamas war to end in a way that will see all of the hostages returned home and Hamas “no longer in control any portion of Gaza,” the president added.

Biden said a total of 58 hostages — Israelis, as well as foreign nationals released separately from the deal with Jerusalem — have now been released by Hamas during the current temporary halt in fighting, through what he called “intensive US diplomacy” by himself and administration officials working with Israel, Qatar, Egypt and others.

The US president said he hoped to see the pause extended.

“That’s my goal, that’s our goal, to keep this pause going beyond tomorrow so that we can continue to see more hostages come out and surge more humanitarian relief into those in need in Gaza.”

The truce “is delivering life-saving results,” Biden added, again stressing his plan to advance a two-state solution after the war.

AFP contributed to this report.

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