Secretary of State Blinken calls for Israeli forces to withdraw from Gaza

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday delivered one of the Biden administration’s strongest public rebukes of Israel, amid its war with Hamas in Gaza. In two TV interviews, Blinken said the United States wants Israeli forces to “get out of Gaza” amid what he described as a “horrible loss of life of innocent civilians.” He also said Israel’s tactics in the war have failed to neutralize Hamas and could create a power “vacuum” in the Palestinian territory. When asked about the U.S. support for Israel, America’s ally, Blinken said: “We believe two things. One, you have to have a clear, credible plan to protect civilians, which we haven’t seen. Second, we also need to see a plan for what happens after this conflict in Gaza is over. And we still haven’t seen that because what are we seeing right now? We’re seeing parts of Gaza that Israel has cleared of Hamas, where Hamas is coming back, including in the north, including in Khan Younis.” He added: “As we look at Rafah, they may go in and have some initial success, but potentially at an incredibly high cost to civilians, but one that is not durable, one that’s not sustainable. And they will be left holding the bag on an enduring insurgency because a lot of armed Hamas will be left, no matter what they do in Rafah, or if they leave and get out of Gaza, as we believe they need to do. Then you’re going to have a vacuum and a vacuum that’s likely to be filled by chaos, by anarchy, and ultimately by Hamas again.” The comments came during an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” Blinken also had an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” where he echoed, for the first time publicly by a U.S. official, the findings of a new report to Congress on Friday that said Israel’s use of U.S.-provided weapons in Gaza likely violated international humanitarian law. “When it comes to the use of weapons, concerns about incidents where given the totality of the damage that’s been done to children, women, men, it was reasonable to assess that, in certain instances, Israel acted in ways that are not consistent with international humanitarian law,” Blinken said, condemning “the horrible loss of life of innocent civilians.” “We treat Israel, one of our closest allies and partners, just as we would treat any other country, including in assessing something like international humanitarian law and its compliance with that,” he continued. During the same interview, Blinken praised President Biden’s support for Israel — saying “no one has done more than Biden” — despite the apparent shift in tone. “No one has done more to defend Israel when it mattered than President Biden,” the Secretary of State said. “He was there in the days after October 7th, the first president to go to Israel in the midst of a conflict when Iran mounted an unprecedented attack on Israel. Some weeks ago, 300 projectiles, including ballistic missiles, launched in Israel. The United States, for the first time ever, participated in its act of defense, and President Biden brought together a coalition of countries that helped defend Israel.” Blinken spoke to Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday, reiterating the U.S. opposition to the Israeli offensive in Rafah, given the toll on civilians there, according to the State Department’s recounting of the call. He said the U.S. continues to work with Arab countries and others for weeks on developing “credible plans for security, for governance, for rebuilding” in Gaza, but “we haven’t seen that come from Israel. … We need to see that, too.” More than a million Palestinians have been forced to live in Rafah amid Israel’s offensive push across Gaza. Israel has described the city as one of the last strongholds of Hamas terrorists. The war began on Oct. 7 after an attack against Israel by Hamas that killed 1,200 people.