Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will urge the Israeli government to agree to a series of brief cessations of military operations in Gaza to allow the safe release of hostages and the distribution of humanitarian aid, White House officials said Thursday.
The message comes as President Biden revealed on Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel had previously agreed to briefly halt the bombing on October 20 to allow the release of two Americans, Judith Raanan, 59, and her daughter, Natalie Raanan. , 17.
The push for what U.S. officials call “humanitarian pauses” is one of several issues Blinken will raise with Netanyahu and other officials when he arrives in Israel on Friday for another round of diplomacy amid fierce fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas, the group that controls Gaza.
White House officials said the request for pauses was very different from a general ceasefire, which the Biden administration believes would benefit Hamas by allowing it to recover from Israel’s intense bombing.
But Biden is under increasing pressure to respond to what humanitarian groups have called an urgent crisis for civilians inside Gaza, where food, water, medicine and fuel are in short supply. An attack on a refugee camp in Gaza this week killed dozens of people, even as Israeli officials said they had killed a senior Hamas leader.
At a fundraiser in Minneapolis on Wednesday night, a protester confronted Biden and demanded that he call a ceasefire. Biden responded: “I think we need a pause. A pause means giving time to remove the prisoners.”
The president then revealed the previously agreed upon pause for the two American hostages, using a common nickname for Netanyahu.
“I’m the guy who convinced Bibi to call a ceasefire to let the prisoners out,” Biden said. National security officials later said that despite the president’s use of the word “ceasefire,” he was referring to a brief pause in Israeli bombing, not a broader end to hostilities across Gaza.
Biden’s comments came a week after Blinken delivered a similar message at the United Nations Security Council.
“Israel must take all possible precautions to prevent harm to civilians,” said the Secretary of State. “It means that food, medicine, water and other assistance must flow to Gaza and to the areas where people need it. It means that civilians must be able to get out of danger. It means that humanitarian pauses should be considered for these purposes.”
US pressure for pauses is unlikely to satisfy Israel’s critics, some of whom are members of the president’s party. Several Democratic lawmakers in the House have introduced a resolution “calling for an immediate de-escalation and ceasefire in Israel and occupied Palestine.”
But administration officials argue that more limited pauses could help address urgent humanitarian problems in Gaza without preventing Israel from responding to the massacre of more than 1,400 people in the October 7 attacks by Hamas.
“What we have said needs to be considered and explored are localized temporary humanitarian pauses to allow aid to reach specific populations and perhaps even to assist with the evacuation of people who want to leave, move further south” from Gaza, John F.,” National Security Council spokesman Kirby said Monday. “We support that. We do not support a ceasefire at this time.”
White House officials said they were pushing for pauses limited by location and duration for two purposes: the possibility of future hostage releases and the urgent need to clear a path for the delivery and distribution of aid to the Palestinians who They live in Gaza.
Officials have said negotiations are continuing for the release of more hostages, with Qatari representatives serving as mediators. If those negotiations are successful, the officials said they would urge Israel to agree to halt its operations in the area where Hamas is preparing to free the hostages.
That’s what happened on Oct. 20, authorities said. Netanyahu agreed to guarantee that there would be no bombing in the area where the Red Crescent picked up the two American women. That pause ended shortly after the women were released.
U.S. officials said they were also concerned about the delivery of humanitarian aid, which is beginning to arrive in Gaza in trucks entering through the Rafah gate on the Gaza-Egypt border.
The concern, officials said, is that the trucks need a way to safely deliver aid to neighborhoods without risking being hit by an Israeli airstrike or getting caught in the middle of ground fighting. And the official said the aid is of no use if residents of a neighborhood are too afraid to leave their homes to get food or water.
Blinken will urge Israel to consider brief pauses to allow aid trucks to pass safely.
White House officials said Netanyahu and other Israeli officials remained opposed to a broad ceasefire but appeared receptive to the idea of further pauses in fighting for those purposes.