Antony Blinken: 'We need do more to protect Palestinian civilians'

US Secretary of State, on visit to Tel Aviv, says how Israel carries out its assault on Gaza matters

Antony Blinken heads back to Middle East to prevent 'escalation'

Antony Blinken heads back to Middle East to prevent 'escalation'
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said more must be done to protect Palestinian civilians as Israel bombards the Gaza Strip, in a clear change of tone from Washington.

“We need do more to protect the Palestinian civilians. We’ve been clear that, as Israel conducts its campaign to defeat Hamas, how it does so matters,” Mr Blinken said.

He was speaking in Tel Aviv on Friday, on his third visit to Israel since October 7 as part of a regional tour.

“It matters because it is the right and lawful thing to do. It matters because failure to do so plays into the hands of Hamas and other terror groups,” Mr Blinken added.

He said he believes that there could be a critical mechanism in protecting civilians while enabling Israel to achieve its objective of defeating Hamas.

Senior US officials, including President Joe Biden, have voiced their support for Israel's assault on Gaza, however they recently began calling for a humanitarian pause to hostilities.

More than 9,000 people, including about 3,760 children, have been killed in recent weeks as Israel pounds Gaza and its more than 2 million residents.

In a message to the various groups supported by Iran, who refer to themselves as the “Axis of Resistance”, Mr Blinken said: “With regard to Lebanon, with regard to Hezbollah, 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.”

Mr Blinken also met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday.

In an address after meeting Mr Blinken – but not alongside the US official – Mr Netanyahu said there would be no truce in Gaza until Hamas releases the 240 hostages it took during its October 7 attack on southern Israel.

“Israel refuses a temporary ceasefire that does not include the return of our hostages,” he said.

The war on Gaza came in response to an unprecedented assault on Israel by Hamas on October 7, when the Palestinian group killed about 1,400 people.

Mr Blinken said he had spoken to Mr Netanyahu and Israel's war cabinet over how, when and where humanitarian pauses could happen and what understandings should be reached to boost aid, avoid more civilian deaths and release the hostages.

Mr Blinken said: “It is very important that when it comes to the protection of civilians who are caught in a crossfire of Hamas’s making that everything be done to protect them and to bring assistance to those who so desperately need it and who are not in any way responsible for what happened on October 7.”

However, he added: “We have a shared determination and that determination will not wane.”

Mr Blinken also called for the protection of journalists, with at least 34 believed to have been killed during the conflict.

He added that the “protection of civilians” was vital.

“And that of course includes journalists, journalists who are doing extraordinary work under the most dangerous conditions, to tell the story to the world,” Mr Blinken added.

Earlier, speaking alongside President Isaac Herzog, Mr Blinken said Israel “has the right and obligation to defend itself and to ensure the events of October 7 never happen again”.

But he added: “At the same time let's just make clear, how Israel does this matters.”

Mr Herzog insisted Israel was going to great lengths to notify residents of air strikes, as he brandished a pamphlet he said Israel has dropped, telling civilians to leave north Gaza.

On the roughly 240 hostages that Hamas took back to Gaza, Mr Blinken said: We are determined to do everything we can to bring them back safely to be with their families and loved ones.”

Israel expanded its ground operation at the end of last month, sending tanks and infantry across the border as its troops aim to surround Gaza city.

On Friday, the Israeli military said it had accomplished that task. Israel views Gaza city as the nerve centre of Hamas operations.

“We will be talking about concrete steps that can and should be taken to minimise harm to men, women and children in Gaza,” Mr Blinken said before his departure from the US.

“This is something that the United States is committed to.”

“When I see a Palestinian child – a boy, a girl – pulled from the rubble of a collapsed building, that hits me in the gut as much as seeing a child in Israel or anywhere else,” said Mr Blinken, who is expected to visit neighbouring Jordan after holding meetings in Israel.

“So this is something that we have an obligation to respond to – and we will.”

Updated: November 03, 2023, 4:40 PM