More must be done to protect civilians in Gaza, Blinken says

'Far too many Palestinians have been killed,' US Secretary of State says

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the media during a visit to New Delhi on Friday. Reuters
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Much more must be done to protect civilians in the Gaza Strip as “far too many” Palestinians have died, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday, a day after the White House announced Israel would begin humanitarian “pauses” in its military offensive.

Thousands of Palestinians are fleeing the combat zone in the north after Israel announced a window for safe passage.

But there appeared to be something of a disconnect between the clearly defined four-hour pauses that the White House had described and the reality on the ground, where the Israeli military pushed deeper into dense urban neighbourhoods in its battle with Hamas militants.

Speaking in New Delhi, Mr Blinken said the US “appreciates” Israel’s formalisation of pauses in their military operations to allow Palestinians to move from northern to southern Gaza and its creation of a second safe corridor for them to use to escape harm.

“At the same time, much more needs to be done to protect civilians and to make sure that humanitarian assistance reaches them,” Mr Blinken said.

“Far too many Palestinians have been killed. Far too many have suffered these past weeks.”

Israel launched a military offensive on the Gaza Strip after Hamas militants killed more than 1,400 people in southern Israel on October 7. Gaza authorities say more than 11,000 people have been killed in Israel's war on Hamas.

Israel has reacted coolly to America's detailed announcement of the daily pauses.

Asked if there would be a “stoppage” in fighting, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Fox News: “No. The fighting continues against the Hamas enemy, the Hamas terrorists, but in specific locations for a given period of a few hours here or a few hours there, we want to facilitate the safe passage of civilians away from the zone of fight and we're doing that.”

An Israeli official told The National on Friday that the measure “is a tactical, localised pause each day in a specific area, to be announced, to allow people to move to the south, and to get food and medicine”.

Following the White House announcement, Israel's chief military spokesman Admiral Daniel Hagari stressed that “the battle continues” and Israel and the US have repeatedly ruled out any possibility of a ceasefire.

“We continue to fight at this time,” Admiral Hagari said.

“Today [Thursday] we saw over 50,000 Gazan civilians from the north of the Gaza Strip moving southward. They understand very well that we are fighting significantly in Gaza city and its surroundings, and that Hamas has lost control.

“We are now fighting a ground operation that we will only deepen. In the heart of Gaza city, we will reach more and more Hamas strongholds.”

Israel has also agreed to open a second route for people fleeing, the White House said.

President Joe Biden on Thursday called the pauses a “step in the right direction” and noted that Israel is “fighting an enemy embedded in the civilian population, which places innocent Palestinian people at risk”.

Francesca Albanese, the UN special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories, described Israel’s decision to allow a four-hour humanitarian pause each day as “very cynical and cruel”.

“There has been continuous bombings, 6,000 bombs every week on the Gaza Strip, on this tiny piece of land where people are trapped and the destruction is massive. There won’t be any way back after what Israel is doing to the Gaza Strip,” Ms Albanese told reporters in Adelaide, Australia, on Friday.

The Israeli embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment on that assessment.

More than 850,000 of the 1.1 people in northern Gaza have left, according to Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus, who called the pauses “quick humanitarian windows” that allow southward movement “while we are fighting”.

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Updated: November 10, 2023, 6:00 PM