- Blinken stresses civilian protection in Gaza during Israel visit
- Israel on high alert along Lebanon border amid conflict concerns
- Gaza City encircled as Israel continues campaign against Hamas
Antony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State, emphasized the importance of safeguarding civilians in Gaza and ensuring their access to humanitarian assistance during his meeting with Israeli officials.
He also reiterated Israel’s right to self-defense. Israel maintained a high state of alert along its border with Lebanon due to concerns that the conflict might expand.
Israeli forces continued to tighten their encirclement of Gaza City, focusing on their campaign against Hamas militants who initiated the conflict with an attack on Israeli communities.
Since that initial assault, there have been ongoing concerns that the conflict could spread to other areas.
Israel and the Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon have engaged in border clashes, and tensions escalated ahead of a planned speech by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.
Hezbollah, an Iran-backed ally of Hamas, conducted attacks on Israeli military positions in northern Israel, using drones, mortar fire, and suicide drones on Thursday.
The Israeli military responded with warplanes and helicopter gunships, resulting in civilian casualties in the Hezbollah attacks.
“We are in a high state of readiness in the north, in a very high state of alert, to respond to any event today and in coming days,” he said.
Since the conflict between Israel and Hamas began, Hezbollah has taken deliberate actions to engage Israel’s military along the border with Lebanon without provoking an all-out war.
A full-scale war with Hezbollah would have devastating consequences for both Israel and Lebanon. Hezbollah is significantly more potent than Hamas, boasting an arsenal of approximately 150,000 rockets and missiles, including precision-guided weapons capable of striking deep within Israel.
Israel has issued warnings of widespread destruction in Lebanon if an all-out war were to erupt, alleging that Hezbollah hides its military facilities within residential areas.
The two adversaries engaged in an inconclusive month-long conflict in 2006. Renewed hostilities could also risk involving Iran, which supports both Hamas and Hezbollah.
In the ongoing conflict in Gaza, over 9,200 Palestinians have been killed, primarily women and minors, with more than 23,000 people wounded.
A specific breakdown between civilians and combatants was not provided by the Gaza Health Ministry.
On the Israeli side, over 1,400 people have died, predominantly civilians during Hamas’ initial attack, which also saw around 240 people taken hostage. Additionally, approximately 5,400 people have been injured.
Since the ground operation began in Gaza, 24 Israeli soldiers have been killed. Furthermore, during the course of the conflict, seven Israeli soldiers and one civilian have lost their lives in various incidents along Israel’s border with Lebanon.
BLINKEN’S LATEST TRIP
During his visit to Israel, as previous American officials have done, Blinken reiterated the United States’ steadfast support for Israel and its right to self-defense.
However, he also emphasized the crucial need to safeguard civilians, expressing increasing concern about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
“We stand strongly for the proposition that Israel has not only the right but the obligation to defend itself, and to make sure that October 7 should never happen again,” Blinken said. “How Israel does this matters and it is very important that when it comes to the protection of civilians who are caught in the crossfire of Hamas’ making that everything to be done to protect them and to bring assistance to those who so desperately need it.”
Antony Blinken’s recent visit to Israel is his third trip to the country since the conflict began. He also has plans to visit Amman, Jordan.
This visit aligns with President Joe Biden’s proposal for a humanitarian “pause” in the fighting, aiming to facilitate the entry of aid for Palestinians and the exit of Palestinians holding foreign passports or who are wounded.
During the past two days, approximately 800 people have left Gaza, marking the first time individuals have departed the besieged territory, aside from four hostages released by Hamas and another rescued by Israeli forces.
Blinken initiated discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a closed-door meeting and later engaged in broader talks with the Israeli leader and his War Cabinet. He also met with President Isaac Herzog.
According to the Health Ministry in Gaza, more than 3,700 Palestinian children have lost their lives during 25 days of conflict.
The ongoing bombardment has displaced over half of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents from their homes. Essential resources like food, water, and fuel are in short supply due to Israel’s blockade, and hospitals are overwhelmed, nearing the point of collapse.
Israel has permitted the entry of over 260 trucks carrying food and medicine into Gaza, but humanitarian workers argue that this falls significantly short of the necessary aid. Israeli authorities have refused to allow fuel supplies, claiming that Hamas is stockpiling fuel for military purposes and would misappropriate new deliveries.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby clarified that the U.S. is not advocating for a comprehensive cease-fire but rather a “temporary, localized” pause in the fighting.
Israel has not openly responded to Biden’s suggestion. But Netanyahu, who has previously ruled out a cease-fire, said Thursday: “We are advancing. … Nothing will stop us.” He vowed to destroy Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip.
Israel and the United States appear to lack a clear strategy for the aftermath should the rule of Hamas in Gaza be toppled, a pivotal concern on Blinken’s agenda during his visit, as stated by the State Department.
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