U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States and Israel had agreed to develop a plan to get humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza without benefiting Hamas, and that President Joe Biden would visit Israel this week to hear how it would minimize civilian casualties in its war effort.
Blinken made the announcement after nine hours of negotiations with Netanyahu that stretched into the early hours of Tuesday. Their meeting was disrupted by air raid sirens warning of incoming Palestinian rocket fire, forcing them to briefly shelter in a bunker.
Blinken, Washington’s top diplomat, was on the fifth consecutive day of round-the-clock diplomacy in the region, shuttling back to Israel after visiting six Arab countries in four days.
He has sought in part to address the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where Israeli bombardment in response to a deadly Hamas attack in Israel has killed some 2,800 Palestinians while forcing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.
“Today, and at our request, the United States and Israel have agreed to develop a plan that will enable humanitarian aid from donor nations and multilateral organizations to reach civilians in Gaza,” Blinken told reporters.
Blinken said the United States shared Israel‘s concern that Hamas may seize or destroy aid entering Gaza, or prevent it from reaching people in need.
“If Hamas in any way blocks humanitarian assistance from reaching civilians, including by seizing the aid itself, we’ll be the first to condemn it. And we will work to prevent it from happening again,” Blinken said.
Blinken did not provide details on what the aid plan would look like.
The top U.S. diplomat also said that Biden would travel to Israel on Wednesday to make clear that the top U.S. ally has the right to defend itself after Hamas gunmen rampaged through southern Israeli towns and military bases on Oct. 7, killing at least 1,300 people.
“President Biden will receive a comprehensive brief on Israel‘s war aims and strategy,” Blinken said.
“[The] president will hear from Israel how it will conduct its operations in a way that minimizes civilian casualties and enables humanitarian assistance to flow to civilians in Gaza in a way that does not benefit Hamas.”
Blinken was in Egypt on Sunday, where he said the Egyptian-controlled Rafah border crossing into Gaza would soon reopen, but a deal to allow aid in, and for some foreign citizens to leave, has yet to materialize.
Speaking to reporters earlier after meeting Blinken, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said: “This will be a long war; the price will be high. But we are going to win for Israel and the Jewish people and for the values that both countries believe in.”
Washington has moved an aircraft carrier strike group to the eastern Mediterranean and is set to move another carrier to the region in coming days, moves Blinken has said are meant as a deterrent, not a provocation.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the Bataan, another warship, was heading near the coast of Israel and would include a Marine expeditionary unit, with a total force of about 2,000 personnel.
They have not been given a specific mission but could play a key role in any evacuation.
Separately, the United States has told some troops, potentially 2,000, to be ready to deploy within 24 hours if notified—instead of the usual 96 hours—to the region and could include units that provide assistance such as medical aid if needed, the U.S. official said.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; writing by Steve Holland, Jasper Ward, and Simon Lewis; additional reporting by Idrees Ali and Patricia Zengerle; editing by Howard Goller and Stephen Coates)
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