The White House is preparing to press Israel to pause its military operations so that civilians can leave the Gaza Strip and aid shipments can get there.
Almost four weeks after Israel sealed off the Palestinian enclave in response to the killing of 1,400 people by Hamas terrorists, calls are growing for a full ceasefire or at least a “humanitarian pause” to ease the humanitarian crisis.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Thursday that such a temporary halt would not affect Israel’s ability to defend itself.
“We’re trying to explore the idea of as many pauses as might be necessary to continue to receive assistance and to continue working to get people out safely, including hostages,” he said during the daily White House briefing.
He spoke shortly after President Joe Biden announced that dozens of US citizens had been able to flee the Gaza Strip.
National security spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that the White House was exploring ways to use humanitarian pauses to bring in aid and get hostages out
“74 U.S. citizens with dual citizenship have left the Gaza Strip,” he said.
Israel is facing increasing international criticism over the rising death toll in Gaza.
At the same time, aid organizations say humanitarian aid from Egypt is inadequate.
American officials rejected calls for a ceasefire, saying it would only let Hamas off the hook, and they insisted they would not tell Israel how to wage its war.
But Biden himself was supporting his calls for a “humanitarian pause” at an event on Wednesday evening when he was heckled by a rabbi.
He was addressing a crowd of supporters in Minneapolis when a woman stood up and shouted, “Mr. President, if you, as a rabbi, care about the Jewish people, you must call for a ceasefire.”
He responded that he understood the arguments of a small group of protesters.
“I think we need a break,” Biden said, before later adding that this would give time to get prisoners out of Gaza.
He has made it clear that he stands side by side with Israel. However, international support for the military bombing of Israel has weakened due to devastating reports of the destruction of churches and refugee camps.
A Palestinian holds the body of a child in his arms amid the destruction caused by Israeli attacks on the Al Bureij refugee camp, as Israeli attacks continue on their 27th day in Gaza City
An Israeli airstrike on the Tal Al Hawa neighborhood in Gaza City on Thursday
People check buildings destroyed in an Israeli attack on the Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip. The attack has increased calls for Israel to moderate its onslaught
“I think we need a break,” Biden said Wednesday night when he was interrupted by protesters, before later adding that it would give time to get prisoners out of Gaza.
According to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, more than 9,000 people have been killed since the October 7 terrorist attack – but Biden rejects this figure because the ministry is an agency controlled by the Hamas government.
This has prompted other governments and UN organizations to call for a full ceasefire and an end to hostilities in Gaza. A ceasefire goes beyond a temporary pause and is widely seen as a first step toward political talks.
On Thursday, seven UN experts said the Palestinian people face “a grave risk of genocide.”
At the same time, Dick Durbin was the first Democratic senator to say that a ceasefire was needed.
“I think this is it,” he told CNN.
“At least if both sides agree, for example, on the release of the abductees…immediate release.” That should be the beginning.’
“An attempt should be made to start talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Let’s face it, this has been going on for decades.”
Shortly thereafter, Senator Chris Murphy called on Israel to reconsider its methods.
“It is time for Israel’s friends to recognize that the current approach is causing unacceptable levels of civilian harm and is unlikely to achieve the goal of ending the threat from Hamas,” he said.
“I call on Israel to immediately reconsider its approach.”