Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that too many Palestinian civilians had been killed in the ongoing fighting in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, and more efforts would be needed to protect the civilian population going forward.
Speaking at a press briefing during his visit to New Delhi, India, on Friday, Mr. Blinken credited the Israeli government on an apparent plan to allow for daily four-hour pauses in military operations and for opening a second corridor for civilians to leave the Gaza Strip. Mr. Blinken said civilians in some areas of the Gaza Strip would also receive an additional three hours of advanced notice ahead of changes in Israeli military operations.
Mr. Blinken said these particular steps agreed to by the Israeli side will save lives and enable more assistance to reach the people of Israel, but he said “much more” still needs to be done “to protect civilians and to make sure that humanitarian assistance reaches them.”
“Far too many Palestinians have been killed; far too many have suffered these past weeks. And we want to do everything possible to prevent harm to them and to maximize the assistance that gets to them,” he continued.
Civilian Casualties Difficult To Verify
Independently verifying the exact numbers of civilian casualties and the responsible parties can be difficult in an active war zone. Further complicating the verification process is the reliability of sources describing the civilian costs of the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict and Israeli claims that Hamas has placed many of its military positions in and around civilians.
This week, the Gaza Health Ministry, which is run by Hamas, placed the death toll in Gaza since the start of the fighting at over 10,000 people. In a Tuesday press briefing, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said, “We still don’t believe that taking the Ministry of Health’s numbers at face value is wise” but said the U.S. side also could not provide an alternative number and is not disputing that “many, many thousands of innocent people in Gaza” have been killed.
The Israeli military has conducted strikes on several hospitals they say Hamas has used as military bases.
Last week, the Israeli military also announced one of its aircraft intentionally struck an ambulance they claim was being used by a Hamas cell. The Hamas side has disputed the claim its fighters were using the ambulance, and the Gaza Health Ministry instead asserted the vehicle was being used to evacuate people wounded in the ongoing fighting. The Gaza Health Ministry further asserted 15 people were killed and 60 more were wounded in that particular strike.
The Biden Admin’s Stance on Casualties, Ceasefires, Pauses
The Biden administration’s rhetoric on civilian casualties in the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict has shifted somewhat in the month since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks that set off the ongoing conflict.
After the first week of fighting, President Joe Biden expressed support for Israel eliminating Hamas entirely and said, “I’m confident the Israelis are going to do everything in their power to avoid the killing of innocent civilians.”
In an Oct. 22 interview with CBS, Mr. Blinken also pushed back on calls for a sustained ceasefire, saying, “Freezing things in place where they are now would allow Hamas to remain where it is and to repeat what it’s done some time in the future.”
Days later, President Biden drew criticism from the Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR) after he said civilian casualties are “the price of waging a war,” but the president stood by the comment despite demands for an apology.
In an Oct. 30 letter, a group representing Muslim Democratic threatened to pull the support of Muslim Democrat voters away from President Biden and other Democrats in future elections if they did not back calls for a ceasefire in Gaza by Nov. 1. President Biden did not meet that specific timeline and demand to back a ceasefire, but voiced support for some form of “pause” in the fighting.
While the Biden administration appears to have found an understanding with Israel with the idea of implementing daily pauses in fighting, President Biden said on Thursday that there’s “no possibility” of a sustained ceasefire at this time.