US Middle East envoy heads to region for talks after veto of UN Gaza ceasefire resolution

Brett McGurk will hold talks in Egypt and Israel this week aimed at securing the release of hostages in Gaza

Palestinians who fled from the northern Gaza Strip and Rafah have set up shelters in Deir Al Balah, in the southern Gaza Strip. EPA
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The White House on Tuesday said it is sending its Middle East envoy to the region to negotiate a temporary humanitarian pause and secure the release of hostages, after the US vetoed a UN resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that Brett McGurk is heading to the region, where he will take part in negotiations in Egypt on Wednesday and in Israel on Thursday.

For months, the US, Egypt and Qatar have been working on a deal between Israel and Hamas that would pause the war in Gaza and lead to the release of more than 100 hostages who have been held since October 7.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller on Tuesday said the US would like to see a humanitarian pause "before the end of the week".

Pressure is mounting on President Joe Biden's administration to help end a war that has claimed the lives of more than 29,000 Palestinians, most of them civilians, according to Gaza health authorities.

The war began after Hamas-led attacks in southern Israel killed 1,200 people, with 240 taken hostage.

At the UN Security Council on Tuesday, the US vetoed a resolution drafted by Algeria that called for an immediate ceasefire.

Mr Kirby said that the Algerian-proposed resolution would have jeopardised continuing talks to release the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.

“We just weren't able to support a resolution today that was going to put sensitive negotiations in peril,” he told reporters.

“And that's what we believe this resolution would do.”

The Biden administration has said that a ceasefire in Gaza would be a victory for Hamas.

Latest from the Israel-Gaza war – in pictures

“We don't believe that the Hamas leadership should be able to get off scot-free here after what happened on the 7th of October," Mr Kirby said.

"And we certainly understand the right and responsibility of the [Israeli army] to eliminate that threat to their own people."

The US has instead proposed its own draft resolution that calls for a temporary ceasefire “as soon as practicable”.

It also says that a major Israeli ground offensive in Rafah should not proceed and that more humanitarian aid must be allowed in.

The Biden administration has continued to back Israel in its stated goal of destroying Hamas.

But in recent weeks it has said that it will not support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to launch a major military operation in Rafah, the southern city in Gaza bordering Egypt, where more than one million displaced Palestinians are seeking shelter from the fighting.

The White House said that operation in Rafah would spell “disaster” for Palestinian civilians there, most of whom are living in makeshift tents and have little access to basic necessities.

The US has instead called on Israel to come up with a “credible” evacuation plan that would protect civilians from harm.

Mr Kirby said that Israel has not presented any safety plans so far, and Mr McGurk would discuss the issue with Israelis during his visit this week.

Updated: February 21, 2024, 5:47 AM