US Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressed the press on Thursday at the end of his visit to Israel amid the pause in fighting as part of the hostage deal between Israel and Hamas.
"Today marks the 7th day of the humanitarian pause in Gaza, that the United States worked closely with Israel, Qatar, and Egypt to put in place. The seventh day that hostages have been freed and are returning home to their families, the seventh day that significantly more humanitarian assistance is getting into the people of Gaza who need it, and the seventh day that civilians in Gaza have been able to move to safer areas," Blinken stated.
He added that the US's immediate focus is working with its partners to extend the pause to enable more hostages to be released and additional humanitarian into Gaza.
Regarding the released hostages, he stated: "We share the elation, the relief of the families from more than a dozen countries, including the United States, who have been united with their loved ones. And yet, there are scores of families here in Israel, the United States, and around the world whose loved ones continue to be held captive and who are desperate to get them home safely. We will not stop working until we get every hostage back home with their families and loved ones."
He added: "Prime Minister Netanyahu also made clear that Israel intends to resume its military operations against Hamas when Hamas stops releasing hostages. As we've said from the outset, Israel has the right to do everything it can to ensure that the slaughter Hamas carried out on October 7 can never be repeated. Hamas cannot remain in control of Gaza. It cannot retain the capacity to repeat that carnage."
The Secretary of State stated that the October 7th massacre "was only underscored by this morning's appalling terrorist attack on people waiting at a bus stop in Jerusalem which killed three Israeli civilians and wounded at least six others, including two American citizens. Hamas has claimed responsibility for that attack. It called its perpetrators heroic."
He added that "the way Israel defends itself matters. It is imperative that Israel act in accordance with international humanitarian law and the laws of war, even when confronting a terrorist group that respects neither.
In my meetings today with the Prime Minister and senior Israeli officials, I made clear that before Israel resumes major military operations, it must put in place humanitarian civilian protection plans that minimize further casualties of innocent Palestinians. That means taking more effective steps to protect the lives of civilians, including by clearly and precisely designating places in southern and central Gaza where they can be safe and out of the line of fire. It means avoiding further significant displacement of civilians inside Gaza. It means avoiding damage to life-critical infrastructure like hospitals, power stations, and water facilities. And it means giving civilians who have been displaced to southern Gaza the choice to return to the north as soon as conditions permit. There must be no enduring internal displacement."
He insisted: "We know that every one of these elements is made more complicated by the fact that Hamas intentionally embeds itself with civilians, within and below hospitals, schools, apartment buildings, and refugee camps. But Israel has one of the most sophisticated militaries in the world. It is capable of neutralizing the threat posed by Hamas while minimizing harm done to innocent men, women, and children. And it has an obligation to do so. Ultimately, that's not just the right thing to do. It's also in Israel's security interests. The Prime Minister and the members of the War Cabinet agreed with the need for this approach."
Blinken said that Hamas has choices, just like Israel. "Hamas could immediately release all of the hostages it holds. It could stop using civilians as human shields and stop using civilian infrastructure to stage and launch terrorist attacks. Hamas could lay down its arms, surrender the leaders who are responsible for the slaughter, the torture, the rapes of October 7th. Hamas could renounce its stated goal of eliminating Israel, killing Jews, and repeating the atrocities of October 7th again and again and again.
Everyone around the world who cares about protecting innocent civilians, and innocent lives, should be calling on Hamas, indeed demanding of Hamas that it immediately stop its murderous acts of terror and deplorable use of innocent men, women, and children as human shields."
Blinken avoided answering the question of whether the Red Cross visiting hostages was part of the agreement with Hamas.