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Secretary Antony J. Blinken At a Press Availability
22 MINUTE READ

 

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good afternoon, everyone.

Days after Hamas’s attack on October 7th, I came to Israel, followed soon thereafter by President Biden, to make clear that as long as the United States stands, Israel will never stand alone.  Today, in my fourth visit to Israel since October 7th, I reiterated that in all my discussions – with Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Herzog, the security cabinet.  I reiterated and made clear our support for Israel’s right to defend itself, indeed its obligation to defend itself.  That includes through the additional assistance that we’ve worked with Congress and we’re working with Congress now to provide for Israel’s defense, as well as for urgent humanitarian needs in Gaza.

This right to self-defense, indeed this obligation to self-defense, belongs to every nation.  No country could or should tolerate the slaughter of innocents.  You’ve heard me speak to some of the stories that Israelis have experienced on October 7th.  Today, we saw additional images, additional footage collected by the Israeli Government from video cameras – some the terrorists’ own, others in communities that were attacked.  It remains almost beyond the human capacity to process, to digest.

I saw, for example, a family on a kibbutz – a father of two young boys maybe 10, 11 years old grabbing them, pulling them out of their living room, going through their very small backyard and into a shelter, followed seconds later by a terrorist who throws a grenade into that small shelter and then, as the father comes staggering out, shoots him down.  And then the boys come out, and they run into their house, and the camera in the house is filming everything.  And they’re crying.  “Where’s daddy?” one says.  The other says, “They killed daddy.”  “Where’s my mommy?”  And then the terrorist comes in and casually opens the refrigerator and starts to eat from it.

That’s what we’re dealing with.  And it is striking and in some ways shocking that the brutality of the slaughter has receded so quickly in the memories of so many.  But not in Israel, and not in America.  Thirty-five Americans were murdered that day as well, and more than 200 foreign nationals from 35 countries.

I’ve returned to the region to engage in intense diplomacy with our partners to try to help ensure that an attack like October 7th never happens again, and in doing so that we forge a different future, a very different future, for Israelis and Palestinians alike; that out of this tragedy emerges a better tomorrow for both peoples and for the region.  There are a number of important steps that we can, indeed we must, take now to help make that possible.

First, we need to continue to prevent escalation of this conflict, its spread to other areas and other theaters.  The United States has and we will continue to respond to attacks by Iran’s proxies to defend our personnel in the region, personnel who are here in Iraq and in Syria to help prevent the resurgence of ISIS.  We will do what is necessary to deter and, as I said, respond to any attacks.

Partners throughout the Middle East and beyond have a critical role to play in averting escalation, and that will be a major focus of my conversations throughout this trip.

Second, we need to do more to protect Palestinian civilians.  We’ve been clear that as Israel conducts its campaign to defeat Hamas, how it does so matters.  It matters because it’s the right and lawful thing to do.  It matters because failure to do so plays into the hands of Hamas and other terror groups.  There will be no partners for peace if they’re consumed by humanitarian catastrophe and alienated by any perceived indifference to their plight.

This is what binds us as human beings.  I’ve seen images too of Palestinian children, young boys and girls, pulled from the wreckage of buildings.  When I see that, when I look into their eyes through the TV screen, I see my own children.  How can we not?

Hamas doesn’t care one second or one iota for the welfare, for the well-being, of the Palestinian people.  It cynically and monstrously uses them as human shields, putting its commanders in command posts, its weapons and ammunition within or beneath residential buildings, schools, mosques, hospitals.

But civilians should not suffer the consequences for its inhumanity and its brutality.  We’ve provided Israel advice that only the best of friends can offer on how to minimize civilian deaths while still achieving its objectives of finding and finishing Hamas terrorists and their infrastructure of violence.  Today, I spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu and other senior officials about concrete steps to do that.

President Biden has consistently stressed the need for Israel to operate according to international humanitarian law.  I also emphasized that the protection of civilians must take place not just in Gaza, but also in the West Bank, where incitement and extremist violence against Palestinians must be stopped – and perpetrators held accountable.

Third, we need to substantially and immediately increase the sustained flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza, and getting American citizens and other foreign nationals out of Gaza.

Since we reached agreement with Israel, Egypt, and the United Nations two weeks ago on mechanisms to enable humanitarian aid to begin reaching civilians in need, we have scaled up deliveries.  We’ve gone from zero to now over 100 trucks going into Gaza through the Rafah Crossing every day.  But this is still not enough.

I spoke to Israeli leaders about tangible steps that can be taken to increase the sustained delivery of food, water, medicine, fuel, and other essential needs while putting in place measures to prevent diversion by Hamas and other terrorist groups.  We’ve identified mechanisms to enable fuel to reach hospitals and other needs in the south.

Israel has raised appropriate concerns, concerns that we share, about Hamas’s hoarding and syphoning of fuel in northern Gaza.  Again, its cynicism knows no bounds, denying fuel itself that it has to hospitals and other places that desperately need it.  In meetings with regional partners, I’ll continue conversations about getting assistance to flow, including with help from the United Nations.

Over the last several days, U.S. citizens, foreign nationals, and critically wounded Palestinian civilians have begun to transit out of Gaza.  We expect more to leave over the coming days.  Even as these people are able to exit Gaza, we remain relentlessly focused on securing the release of hostages, including American citizens.  We discussed these ongoing efforts today.  Our Deputy Special Representative for Hostage Affairs Steve Gillen, who came with me on my first visit a couple of weeks ago, has remained here on the ground to help bring our people home and also to work with their families.

We believe that each of these efforts would be facilitated by humanitarian pauses, by arrangements on the ground that increase security for civilians and permit the more effective and sustained delivery of humanitarian assistance.  That was an important area of discussion today with Israeli leaders: how, when, and where these can be implemented; what works needs to happen, and what understandings must be reached?  Now, we recognize this would take time to prepare and coordinate as well with international partners.

A number of legitimate questions were raised in our discussions today, including how to use any period of pause to maximize the full humanitarian assistance, how to connect a pause to the release of hostages, how to ensure that Hamas doesn’t use these pauses or arrangements to its own advantage.  These are issues that we need tackle urgently, and we believe they can be solved.

We’ve agreed to have our teams continue to discuss practical solutions.  I’ve instructed our Special Envoy for Middle East Humanitarian Issues David Satterfield, who has been doing remarkable work here over the last couple of weeks, to continue these discussions.  Ultimately, we believe this can be a critical mechanism for protecting civilians while enabling Israel to achieve its objectives of defeating Hamas.

Finally, and importantly, even as we work towards progress on each of these urgent needs, we’re focused on setting the conditions for a durable and sustainable peace and security.  The United States continues to believe that the best viable path – indeed, the only path – is through a two-state solution.  That’s the only guarantor of a secure, Jewish, and democratic Israel; the only guarantor of Palestinians realizing their legitimate right to live in a state of their own, enjoying equal measures of security, freedom, opportunity, and dignity; the only way to end a cycle of violence once and for all.

And it’s precisely now, in the darkest moments, that we have to fight hardest to preserve a path of stability, of security, of opportunity, of integration, of prosperity, and of peace – not tomorrow, not after the war, but today.

Thank you.

MR MILLER:  First question goes to Leon Bruneau with AFP.

QUESTION:  Yes.  Excuse me.  Hi, Leon Bruneau, Agence France-Presse.  Thank you for doing this, Mr. Secretary.  You mentioned it in your opening speech, of course, and yesterday also you said that you would – it was urgent or concrete measures needed to be taken to ease the fate of Palestinian civilians.  What assurances did the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, give you this morning in your talks?  And also on the issue of humanitarian pauses that you say you have discussed – and I understand that you said you don’t know where, how, and when – but could you give us a little bit more details on what you mean by that exactly?  I mean, is it stop bombings or what have you?  Can you give us some details on that?

And then last question, very quickly, there was a strike yesterday on AFP’s office in Gaza where we have a continued live feed for – since the beginning of the conflict.  The – apparently a missile strike – did serious damage to our office there.  I’d like your thoughts on that, please.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Great, Leon.  Thank you very much.  A few things in response.  First, when it comes overall to humanitarian assistance, the Israeli Government is committed to providing that assistance – or enabling that assistance, more accurately – to get to people in Gaza.  And as I said, just over the last two weeks, we’ve gone from nothing getting in through the Rafah gate to now, I think just today, well over 100 trucks.  And as I said, that’s significant progress in the space of a couple of weeks, but it’s also insufficient.  And there’s a recognition not only by us of that fact but also by the Israeli Government, as well as our Egyptian partners, as well as the United Nations.

So we are looking at very concrete, practical ways to widen the aperture, to significantly increase the assistance that’s getting in – the food, the medicine, the water, fuel, other critical needs for people who, through no fault of their own, are in desperate, desperate need.  And we had a good conversation about that today.  Again, Ambassador Satterfield, who’s here, is working on this every single day; but I’m confident, based on the conversations we had, that you’ll see a further increase in the assistance that’s getting in to people who need it.

With regard to humanitarian pauses, again, we see this as a way of further facilitating the ability to get assistance in, to make sure that the resources are in place as well to absorb the assistance coming in, to make sure that it gets to the people who need it.  We see it as a way also, and very importantly, of creating a better environment in which hostages can be released.  And this is a very important piece.

So as I mentioned already, and I won’t repeat it, there are a number of very important practical questions that go along with this that we’ve agreed to discuss and work on.  We’ve agreed that our teams will continue to talk about this in the days ahead.  And from our perspective, this can be a critical way to advance many of the interests that I discussed earlier.

I haven’t seen the details about the strike, Leon, that you alluded to that hit the AFP office in Gaza.  And let me just say, and say again, that as we stand strongly for Israel’s right and obligation to defend itself, we also believe that it’s vitally important how Israel does this, including with the highest regard for the protection of civilians, and that of course includes journalists, journalists who are doing extraordinary work under the most dangerous conditions, to tell this story to the world something that we deeply admire, deeply respect, and we want to make sure that they are protected.

MR MILLER:  The next question goes to Keren Betzalel with Channel 12.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you, Secretary Blinken, for being here.  Two issues.  Hasan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hizballah, is talking right now.  If, following his speech or his remark, another front will open in the north, will the U.S. actually use its firepower in the region not only to deter but also to destroy target in Lebanon, or if needed, in Iran?

And on the hostages, the Biden administration is asking Israel for a temporary pause, and we understand it is not a ceasefire.  But do you have any guarantees, any assurances, that this temporary pause will lead to hostage release?  And I know you have heard the family of the hostages today outside the Kiyra base.  And if – may I – can you assure us that the United States will not hold Israel back before the main objective of this war will fulfill, which is eliminating Hamas?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Let me take the second question first.  There are no guarantees about anything as a general proposition, and maybe even more specifically, in the context of the fight against Hamas.  But we are absolutely focused on getting hostages back and getting them back to their families in safety, and we believe that, among other things, a humanitarian pause could help that effort, could facilitate it.  It’s one of the reasons why we’re focused on it.  But regardless, our determination to get people back is manifested every single day in our efforts to do – to do just that.

And as I’ve said and said repeatedly, and as President Biden has said and has said repeatedly, we stand strongly with and behind Israel in its right and obligation to defend itself, defend its people, and take the steps necessary to try to ensure that this never happens again.  Nothing has changed and that won’t change.

With regard to Lebanon, with regard to Hizballah, with regard to Iran, we have been very clear from the outset that we are determined that there not be a second or third front opened in this conflict.  President Biden said on day one to anyone thinking of opening a second front, taking advantage of the situation, don’t.  And we’ve backed up those words not only with work that we’ve done with many partners in the region to reinforce that message. but with practical deeds, including the deployment of two aircraft carriers battlegroups to the region; including with action that we’ve taken for example against missiles coming from Yemen in the direction of Israel, shooting them down; including as well with strikes that we took in response to multiple attacks on our personnel in Iraq and Syria who are there, as I said earlier, to try to prevent the resurgence in the region of ISIL, of Daesh.  We remain absolutely determined in that effort.  And I’m not going to get into hypothetical situations, but all I can say is we’re committed to deterring aggression from any part and we’ll take the steps necessary to deal with it.

MR MILLER:  For the next question, Vivian Salama with The Wall Street Journal.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, thank you as always for bringing us along with you in your travels.  Before we left D.C., you stressed that the U.S. was discussing with Israel the current conflict, and you added, “We will also be focusing on the day after.”  Can you talk a little bit about what that looks like?  In particular, what is being done to ensure that whatever does come after doesn’t spin into potentially short- or long-term occupation?

And also, are there discussions at all to create a multilateral force for Gaza?  And if so, would the U.S. be willing to take part in something like that?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, Vivian.  Here’s what we know and I think is agreed among everyone:  There cannot and must not be a return to the pre-October 7 status quo.  That’s unacceptable.  It’s not tolerable for Israel; it shouldn’t be acceptable or tolerable by anyone else.  And that means that the idea of Hamas remaining responsible for governance, such as it was, and security, and posing an ongoing and enduring threat to Israel and its citizens, is unacceptable.  So that’s one thing we know.

We also know that Israel cannot reassume control and responsibility for Gaza.  And it’s important to note that Israel has made clear it has no intention or desire to do that.

So within those parameters, we are and will continue to have discussions with partners throughout the region and well beyond about what should follow once Hamas is defeated.  There are a number of possibilities, permutations, but it’s really premature to get into any detail about that.

As important is putting this into a bigger picture, a bigger vision of how we achieve enduring and lasting peace and security in the region.  And as I said earlier, the United States is convinced – we have been for some time, and I think we’re only reinforced in that conviction since October 7th – that the best path, maybe even the only path, as I said, is through two states for two peoples.  Again, that is the only way to ensure lasting security for a Jewish and democratic Israel, the only way to ensure that the Palestinians achieve their legitimate aspirations for a state of their own.

So I think it’s important, as we’re talking about all of this with every partner in the region – Israel, our Arab partners, and many others, as well as the broader international community – that we have that big frame in mind, and whatever we do, whatever is done, also helps to advance that.  So that’s how we’re looking at it right now.

QUESTION:  Can I just press you, Mr. Secretary?  Because you’re talking about the defeat of Hamas.  And I’m wondering for – Hamas is not just a bunch of individuals but probably an ideology as well.  And especially with the intense bombardment that we’re seeing in Gaza right now, the potential for extremism down the line is high.  And so when you say defeat Hamas, is that being factored in?  And what are you doing, then, to address those issues as well?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yeah, Vivian, I – you’re exactly right.  This is about dealing with Hamas in terms of defeating it physically, that is, making sure that it can’t repeat what it did on October 7th.  But it is also about defeating an idea, a perverted idea, but an idea that we have to combat with a better idea, with a better future, with a better vision for what that future can be, and demonstrating that we’re committed to achieving that future, that vision.  Because in the absence of that, even after Hamas, those who sing the siren song of nihilism will find open ears.

So it’s imperative, in our judgment, that not only is Hamas dealt with in a way that October 7th can never be repeated, but that we lay out a clear vision and a path to achieve that vision that gives people something to hope for, to buy into, to grab onto.  And I believe that there is a broad and strong coalition throughout the region that wants to do exactly that.  All of these countries are on one side of the equation.  Who’s on the other side of the equation?  Hamas, Hizballah, and Iran.

So it’s incumbent upon us, I think, not only to lay out that vision but to be clear about the ways that we propose to achieve it.  This is not flipping a light switch, needless to say, given how deep-rooted and enduring these problems are.  But there – we have to – we have to address this, and we have to address it in concrete ways and with determination because, again, it comes back to exactly what you said.  We have to demonstrate that we have a better idea and a way to achieve it.

MR MILLER:  For the final question, Muhannad Tutunji with BBC.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  First question:  The whole world is looking to end this war – when will you ask Israel to stop it?  And the next question:  The wave of settler violence is increasing with unarmed Palestinians being killed daily – what is the United States doing to address increasing settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  With regard to the first part of the question, again, I’ll repeat what I’ve said:  We stand behind Israel’s right and, indeed, obligation to defend itself and to do everything it can to make sure that October 7th never happens again.  And we will continue to stand with Israel to achieve that.  And as I’ve also said repeatedly, the way that Israel does so matters, and we’ve discussed today, as well as in many preceding days, the imperative of doing everything possible to protect civilians, the imperative of doing everything possible to get assistance to those who need it.

With regard to extremist violence that we’re seeing in the West Bank, this is something that, before October 7th, was a real concern for the United States and one that we’ve repeatedly raised in our engagements with the Israeli Government, and it’s an acute concern right now.  Look, I don’t want to speak for the Israeli Government; it’s not appropriate.  But I think it’s fair to say that what I heard today was a clear commitment from the government to deal with extremist violence in the West Bank – to condemn it, to take action to prevent it, to take action against those who perpetrate it.  So this is important, and we will be looking closely to ensure that our friends make good on that commitment.

MR MILLER:  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much.  Thanks, everyone.