US trying to close ‘gap’ between Israel’s intent and resulting Gaza death toll: Blinken

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The U.S. is trying to lower civilian casualties from Israel’s military campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attack that sparked the current war, but there is a “gap” between the Israeli military’s intention and results, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday.

“We’re focused on two things: We’re focused on — what is their intent, and are they [the Israelis] taking necessary measures to make sure that they’re acting in adherence with humanitarian law and international law? But then also, what are the results?” Blinken told ABC “This Week” co-anchor Martha Raddatz.

“We’ve seen the results,” Raddatz responded. She noted reports of numerous civilians, including women and children, killed in the fighting. More than 17,700 people have died in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.

Israeli officials maintain they take steps to curb the risk to non-Hamas fighters.

“There’s a gap between the intent and the results, and that’s the gap that we’re trying to make sure is closed,” Blinken said. “Look, this could be over tomorrow. This could be over tomorrow. If Hamas got out of the way of civilians instead of hiding behind them, if it put down its weapons, if it surrendered.”

The “entire world” should put pressure on Hamas “to do just that,” Blinken said. “That would stop this tomorrow. But in the absence of that, Israel has to take steps not only to defend itself against the ongoing attacks from Hamas, but against Hamas’s stated intent to repeat Oct. 7 again and again if given the opportunity.”

Political pressure and public outcry have ramped up in the U.S. over its support for Israel’s government in the fight against Hamas after the terror group’s attack two months ago killed 1,200 people, according to the Israeli prime minister’s office.

Hamas is also thought to have taken more than 200 captives back to Gaza after the October attack, though more than 100 were freed in a hostage-prisoner exchange deal as part of a now-lapsed cease-fire.

When pressed by Raddatz on Sunday over U.S. military aid to Israel during the fighting, even amid mounting criticism and scrutiny over how Israel has carried out its retaliatory operations in Gaza, Blinken insisted weapons transfers like 13,000 more rounds of tank ammunition come with strings attached — including keeping civilians out of harm’s way as much as possible.

The tank ammo sale was done under an emergency authorization that bypasses congressional review.

“We are in almost constant discussions with the Israelis to ensure that they understand what their obligations are, to make sure that we understand how they’re using whatever arms we’re providing to them,” Blinken said.

Raddatz asked if he had “seen anything in the Israel campaign, with thousands and thousands of civilians killed, many, many of those children, that you believe should be investigated, or has been investigated?”

“I can’t evaluate a specific instance in the moment. But I can tell you, we’re looking at everything,” Blinken responded.

The U.S. has largely remained steadfast in support for Israel’s military campaign while voicing vocal concerns for Palestinian civilian casualties.

“We are deeply, deeply aware of the terrible human toll that this conflict is taking on innocent men, women and children,” Blinken said on Sunday.

But, he said, Israel’s push to eliminate Hamas after the October attack was a legitimate goal that could not be set aside — including through a U.N. demanding a cease-fire, which the U.S. recently vetoed.

“When it comes to a ceasefire in this moment, with Hamas still alive, still intact, and again, with the stated intent of repeating Oct. 7 again and again and again, that would simply perpetuate the problem,” Blinken said.

The fighting in Gaza has sparked concerns over wider violence in the Middle East, particularly as Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen continue to attack ships in the Red Sea, which is a vital lane for goods and travelers.

While the militant group has said its strikes are about Israel, Blinken noted that numerous other countries’ ships are vulnerable. He told Raddatz that sanctions that have been applied to weaken the Houthis’ funding and he would not rule out future military action.

The U.S. is balancing its role in the Israel-Hamas war with providing Ukraine with further aid to fend off Russia’s invasion.

Congress is currently weighing a package that would send billions of dollars in more assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan while also increasing security measures on the southern border.

Democrats are largely aligned in support of the package proposed by the Biden administration, but Republicans have become more skeptical of additional Ukraine funding and are calling for major immigration policy changes to be attached to any legislation. A Senate vote on the money failed last week.

Blinken called for passage of the Biden-backed bill “as quickly as possible” so that Ukraine could continue to weaken Russia’s military.

“Ukraine has done an extraordinary job in defending against this Russian aggression,” he said. “Over the past years, it’s taking back more than 50% of its territory. It’s engaged in a ferocious battle right now along the eastern and southern fronts. We are running out of resources already in the bank to continue to assist them.”

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