(NEW YORK) -- Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday delivered a forceful defense of Israel's military actions but said that "humanitarian pauses must be considered" to protect civilians in Gaza -- the administration's strongest statement of a support for any type of halt in Israel's efforts to vanquish Hamas.
"First, we all recognize the right and indeed the imperative states to defend themselves against terrorism. That's why we must unequivocally condemn Hamas and its barbaric terrorist attack against Israel," the secretary began in remarks at the United Nations Security Council, repeating some of the atrocities committed during Hamas' terrorist attack on Israel on Oct. 7.
"Parents executed in front of their children. Children executed in front of their parents. And so many taken hostage in Gaza," he said. "We have to ask -- indeed, it must be asked -- where's the outrage? Where's the revulsion? Where's the rejection? Where's the explicit condemnation of these horrors?"
While Blinken maintained that member states "must affirm the right of any nation to defend itself and to prevent such horror from repeating itself" and said that every member of the U.N. has a "responsibility to denounce the member states that arm, fund and train Hamas or any other terrorist group that carries out such horrific acts," he then turned to ongoing efforts to protect civilian lives, emphasizing that Hamas is responsible for putting the innocent in harm's way before issuing his strongest warning yet to Israel.
"Hamas must cease using them as human shields," he said. "Israel must take all possible precautions to avoid harm to civilians. It means means food, medicine and water and other assistance must flow into Gaza and to the areas people need them. It means civilians must be able to get out of harm's way. It means humanitarian pauses must be considered for these purposes."
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby echoed Blinken's sentiments during Tuesday's White House press briefing.
"We have and will continue to talk to our Israeli counterparts about the importance of avoiding and minimizing civilian casualties and respecting innocent life and trying to prevent collateral damage as they go after legitimate Hamas targets," he said Tuesday afternoon.
Asked to expand upon Blinken's comments that "humanitarian pauses must be considered," Kirby said, "We want to see all measure of protection for civilians and pauses in operation is a tool and a tactic that can do that for temporary periods of time."
"That is not the same as saying a ceasefire," he added. "Again, right now, we believe a ceasefire benefits Hamas, a general ceasefire."
Kirby said the difference between a humanitarian pause and a ceasefire is "a question of duration and scope and size and that kind of thing."
Previously, the State Department and other U.S. officials flatly rejected calls for any kind of ceasefire, arguing, as State Department spokesperson Matt Miller did Monday, that it would "give Hamas the ability to rest, to refit and to get ready to continue watching terrorist attacks against Israel."
In his remarks, Blinken also detailed the administration's efforts to prevent the conflict from spreading in the Middle East but emphasized the threat posed by Iran and promised the U.S. would not allow attacks on Americans to go unanswered.
"We do not want this war to widen, but if Iran or its proxies attack U.S. personnel anywhere, make no mistake: We will defend our people. We will defend our security, swiftly and decisively," he vowed.
Blinken's remarks followed U.N. Secretary-General António Gutteres delivering some of most forceful rhetoric on the Israel-Hamas war to date, demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire “to ease epic suffering, make the delivery of aid easier and safer and facilitate the release of hostages.” His speech, especially his assertion that “the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum,” sparked immediate backlash from Israeli officials.
“The shocking speech by the Secretary-General at the Security Council meeting, while rockets are being fired at all of Israel, proved conclusively, beyond any doubt, that the Secretary-General is completely disconnected from the reality in our region and that he views the massacre committed by Nazi Hamas terrorists in a distorted and immoral manner,” Israel’s permanent representative to the UN wrote on X.
He added: “I call on him to resign immediately. There is no justification or point in talking to those who show compassion for the most terrible atrocities committed against the citizens of Israel and the Jewish people. There are simply no words.”
While extensive, international negotiations have led to the release of four hostages captured by Hamas, an estimated 220 foreign nationals are still being held hostage by the group, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Additionally, as many as 600 Americans are still being blocked by the U.S.-designated terrorist group from crossing into Egypt, according to Biden administration officials.
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