Talks continuing over Gaza humanitarian corridor, White House says

Washington says it will arrange flights to help American citizens leave Israel

Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike in northern Gaza city. EPA
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The White House on Thursday said talks with Egypt and Israel were continuing over the creation of a humanitarian corridor that would allow civilians, including Palestinian Americans, to leave Gaza amid concerns over an Israeli ground invasion.

White House National Security spokesman John Kirby said President Joe Biden's administration supports enabling the flow of assistance to residents of Gaza and for civilians to be able to leave through a humanitarian corridor.

“The first and most important thing that we're trying to do is allow for safe passage. Right now they can't leave so we would have no physical means of permitting that transit out,” Mr Kirby told journalists.

“We're actively having conversations with the Israelis and the Egyptians about a safe passage corridor so that people who want to leave, can leave.”

Mr Kirby's comments came as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was visiting Israel in a show of solidarity. He vowed the US would “always be there” by Israel's side.

On Saturday, Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel that killed more than 1,200 people and prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to completely seal off the Gaza Strip. Israel has launched massive air strikes on the tiny enclave, flattening entire neighbourhoods and killing about 1,500 people so far.

And on Tuesday, air strikes on the Rafah border crossing with Egypt made the only other way out of the territory unusable.

Earlier this week, Israel cut off water, food, electricity and medicine to the territory that is home to 2.3 million Palestinians, drawing concerns from the UN and aid organisations that the move would harm innocent civilians and lead to a humanitarian crisis.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on Wednesday for “immediate and unimpeded humanitarian access” to civilians in Gaza and added that “there is no time to lose”.

Amid a massive call-up of Israeli army reservists, concerns were looming that Israel was preparing for a ground invasion.

Mr Kirby said allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza is “the right thing to do.”

The announcement came as an unknown number of Palestinian Americans have been unable to leave the Gaza Strip.

But some Palestinians in Gaza, many of them refugees from the 1948 war that led to the creation of state of Israel, are worried that if they are allowed to leave the enclave, they will not be allowed to return after the conflict ends.

“Our focus right now is making sure that – not all of them are going to want to leave – but to those who do, who really want to get out that they have the ability to get out,” Mr Kirby said.

“We know that Gaza is home for these people, and if they want to go back home, they should absolutely be allowed to go back home but they should be able to make those decisions, just like citizens anywhere should be able to make those kinds of decisions.”

On Thursday, US officials updated the number of Americans who are believed to have been killed to 27, and the number unaccounted for to 14.

Hamas gunmen are believed to have taken about 150 hostages in their attack on Saturday.

Mr Kirby also announced that starting on Friday, the US would evacuate Americans who have not been able to secure commercial transport out of Israel aboard charter flights to cities in Europe.

Updated: October 13, 2023, 8:33 AM