QUESTION: Welcome with us —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.
QUESTION: — Mr. Secretary. Well, actually, you have, well, a very hectic regional trip that included eight countries, that started with Israel, and one of its most important aims was to support Israel. Have you discussed with Israeli leaders the de-escalation of their military operation in Gaza?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, let me say this. We’ve had very good and important conversations throughout the region, and I think there are many shared perspectives, including trying to ensure that this crisis doesn’t spread to other places, including making sure that civilians can – who are in harm’s way are out of harm’s way and get the assistance they need. I think there’s clear condemnation of the actions that Hamas has taken, the atrocities it’s committed, and a desire to find a way forward, a positive way forward.
Israel has the right to defend itself, and not only to defend itself, but also to make sure that to the best – to the extent possible, this can’t happen again. What Hamas has done and the way it has done it brings to mind nothing but Daesh, ISIS. It’s hard to describe in words the atrocities that were committed on men, women, children, babies, old people. But the way that Israel does this is also very important, to include taking every precaution that civilians not be harmed and making sure that those who need assistance can get it. And we’re working very, very actively on that.
QUESTION: That’s my question, actually. Israel has imposed a very strict blockade on the strip, preventing food, medicine, water, electricity, energy. I mean, have you discussed this with regional leaders, a ceasefire or a truce to get the humanitarian aid inside?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We believe that civilians should not suffer because of the depravity of Hamas. And among other things, that means that they should have food, water, medicine, all the basic essentials that they need. And that’s exactly what we’re working on. Today, water was turned back on for Gaza. We engaged with Israel to make that happen. We’re now focused on making sure that humanitarian assistance can get in, that people can get out of harm’s way within Gaza, and also that some of our own citizens who wish to leave can get out. But this has been very much a part not only of our conversations, but of the actions we’re taking.
In fact, today President Biden appointed one of our most experienced diplomats, David Satterfield, who has deep experience in this region, to lead our humanitarian assistance efforts – special envoy of the President to work with everyone in the region to make sure that Palestinians in harm’s way in Gaza get the assistance they need.
QUESTION: Of course, you’ve heard the word “collective punishment” – from the leaders, from President Sisi today, from humanitarian groups, from many organizations – that the order of Israel to more than 1 million Palestinian civilians to be evacuated from the north to the south of Gaza that is supposedly almost impossible, it’s a death sentence. And my question for you: How can the United States help the Palestinian civilians in Gaza?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s exactly what we’re focused on now, and as I said, working very closely with a number of countries – with Egypt, with the United Nations, also with Israel and other interested countries – in putting the assistance together, getting it into Gaza, making sure that people can be out of harm’s way in Gaza, not outside of Gaza. That’s exactly what we’re focused on and that’s why we’ve appointed a very senior official to make sure that we’re working on that every single day.
QUESTION: Okay. A truce can be – or a ceasefire can be held very soon to get the humanitarian aid?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The – the attacks against Israel from Hamas continue. Any – no country – no country – can accept the proposition that terrorists can come in, slaughter – and I use the word very advisedly – slaughter thousands of its citizens, riddling babies with bullets, burning people alive, decapitating soldiers, executing children in front of their parents, executing parents in front of their children – no country can tolerate this. So Israel, as I said, has the right to defend itself; in fact, it has the obligation to defend itself. But as I’ve also said – and President Biden’s been very clear about this – the way that it does it matters, makes a difference. And that’s why it is very important that Israel do everything possible to ensure that civilians are not harmed.
Civilians have been put in harm’s way by Hamas. Hamas had to know there would be a strong reaction to what it did, and knowing that and knowing that civilians would be in harm’s way, it went ahead anyway. And the fact of the matter is this. What does Hamas do? Hamas makes sure that all of its critical leaders, that its command centers, that its weapons, its ammunitions are all located in residential areas in residential buildings or buried underneath hospitals, schools, and supermarkets. They know – they are using the Palestinians of Gaza as human shields, and that, too, is disgraceful.
QUESTION: Egypt had called for an international summit as regards the future of the Palestinian cause. Will the United States endorse and participate in such a summit?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So we welcome these efforts. We welcome any efforts to work together to determine how the international community can best support the Palestinian people, can make sure that people have the assistance they need, and can also talk about the future.
QUESTION: Okay. The relocation of the Gaza residents to the Sinai Peninsula, this has been bluntly proposed by Israeli officials and in Israeli media, which is totally rejected by Egypt and many Arab countries. Did you discuss this issue during your tour, and did you find other alternatives for the Gaza people?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’ve heard, and I’ve heard directly from Palestinian Authority President Abbas and from virtually every other leader that I’ve talked to in the region, that that idea is a nonstarter, and so we do not support it. We believe that people should be able to stay in Gaza, their home. But we also want to make sure that they’re out of harm’s way and that they’re getting the assistance they need.
QUESTION: Okay. The efforts to evacuate foreign nationals from Gaza strip has been blocked by Israelis. Refusal to allow humanitarian aid and Egypt’s, of course, insistence to open a two-way corridor, human corridor, to Gaza. Is there hope, a deal as this regard can be reached very soon?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So Israel is not blocking the departure of foreign nationals. The problem has been Hamas has disrupted that, and of course, we have to make the necessary arrangements. Egypt is fully prepared to facilitate the departure of more citizens, of other foreign nationals. At the same time, Egypt is fully prepared – and we’re working with them – to get assistance in. And we’re putting in place a system – working with the United Nations, working with Egypt, working with other countries – to make sure that the assistance can get into Gaza, get to the people who need it.
QUESTION: There is widespread – there’s fear of widespread violence and the conflict is just spread from – beyond Gaza. You have sent – the United States have sent aircraft missiles, weapons in order to warn other parties not to be in the conflict. How concerned are you that this will be – spread the conflict in the area?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think this is a concern across the region. Pretty much everyone that I spoke to is concerned about the conflict spreading and determined that it not spread. President Biden has been very clear – very clear – no one, state or otherwise, should try to take advantage of this moment, and he said that directly. And as you noted, we have sent two of our aircraft carrier groups, both to the Eastern Mediterranean and to the region, not as a provocation but as a deterrent to make clear to anyone who would think about doing something: don’t do it.
QUESTION: Okay. Will the United States send military personnel to take military action or take military action to free its civilians kept hostages in Gaza?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We are very focused on getting our people back, getting the hostages back – another absolutely unconscionable action by Hamas: taking little children, taking elderly people, taking a Holocaust survivor in a wheelchair. I don’t even know how anyone can comprehend that, can process that. We’re determined to bring our people back. We’re working on that. I’m not going to talk about any more details than that.
QUESTION: Okay. My last question, because we’re running out of time: With this unprecedented escalation in the region, do you think that the two-state solution is still valid?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We – it’s long been American policy, United States policy, that the answer or a critical part of the answer to the future for the region and certainly the future for Palestinians and Israelis is two states. And we continue to strongly support that.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I’ll have to end our interview in Arabic.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Shukran.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-with-randa-abul-azm-of-al-arabiya/