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9 MINUTE READ
December 2, 2023

Secretary Antony J. Blinken Remarks to the Press

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  This is my third visit to the region since Hamas slaughtered men, women, and children on October 7th.  During the first visit that I made, I came to show strong solidarity with Israel defending itself, trying to make sure that October 7th never happens again; and also, to stress the importance of humanitarian assistance getting to people in need in Gaza.  After that visit, the humanitarian assistance began to flow.

During my second visit, I focused on how pauses – humanitarian pauses – could facilitate the release of hostages, enable more assistance to get into Gaza, and also help get innocent civilians out of harm’s way.  After that visit, we saw Israel institute pauses that got – enabled people to get out of harm’s way.  We were able to broker a deal with Qatar, with Egypt playing critical roles for a seven-day pause.  And as a result, some 100 hostages were able to get out and be reunited with their families.  And in addition – as I said, we’ve seen the humanitarian assistance during that period more than double getting to people who need it so desperately in Gaza.

During this visit, I was focused on a few things, trying to see what we can do to keep getting hostages out of Gaza and out of the hands of Hamas, looking at how we can both sustain and increase the humanitarian assistance that’s getting to the people in Gaza, and also talking about the way forward and Israel’s efforts to make sure that Hamas never again has the ability to do what it did on October 7th.

I made clear that after the pause it was imperative that Israel put in place clear protections for civilians and for sustaining humanitarian assistance going forward.  And as we’ve seen just today, Israel has already moved out on parts of that, including sending out information, making it clear where people can be in safe areas in Gaza.  And we’ll be looking at that going forward.  It’s very, very important.

It’s also important to understand why the pause came to an end.  It came to an end because of Hamas.  Hamas reneged on commitments it made.  In fact, even before the pause came to an end, it committed an atrocious terrorist attack in Jerusalem, killing three people, wounding others, including Americans.  It began firing rockets before the pause had ended.  And as I said, it reneged on commitments it made in terms of releasing certain hostages.

We remain intensely focused on getting everyone home, getting hostages back.  It’s something that I also worked on today.  So, we’re still at this.  We’re also very much focused, as we’ve been all along, on trying to make sure that this conflict doesn’t spread, that it doesn’t escalate in other places.  But we’re also using our diplomacy to look at not only what’s happening today and how we’re handling that, but also what happens the day after in Gaza and how we can get on the path to a just, lasting, and secure peace for Israelis, for Palestinians – in fact, for everyone in the region.  And that’s also a big focus of our diplomacy.

Here today, I had an opportunity to meet with a number of colleagues from across the region.  And we focused our conversation on all three aspects of what we’re doing today, the day after in Gaza, as well as the path to a durable, lasting, secure peace for everyone concerned.  We have to be doing all of that, and we have to be doing all of that at the same time.

A lot of it requires hard work, tough decisions, commitments that various countries will have to make.  We know from many years of experience none of it will be easy, but I think it’s more imperative than ever.  So that’s the work of our diplomacy day-in, day-out.  That’s why the United States is here.  That’s why we’re engaged.  That’s why we’ll remain engaged.

Happy to take some questions.

MR MILLER:  Courtney.

QUESTION:  Good evening, Mr. Secretary.  What are the prospects for renewed pauses, and for continued release of the hostages after what we saw today?  And also, what does the resumption of hostilities mean for this pursuit of a post-Hamas structure in Gaza?  On past visits, your interlocutors in the region were not particularly ready to talk about that post-war structure.  Where do things stand now?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So, Courtney, on hostages, as I said, we remain intensely focused on that.  We’re determined to do everything we can to get everyone home, get them reunited with their families, including pursuing the process that worked for seven days.  We had seven days of a pause; seven days of people coming home and being reunited with their families.  So, we’re on that almost hour by hour.  But meanwhile, we’ve also been very clear that we support Israel and its efforts to make sure that October 7th never happens again.  We’ve also been very clear about the imperative of doing that in a way that puts a premium on protecting civilians and making sure that humanitarian assistance gets to those who need it.  So that’s what we’re focused on, and we’re doing both at the same time.

At the same time, and in the conversations that we had today, it’s – it is important for us to be talking about and thinking about every aspect of this challenge – not only today but also what happens the day after the conflict in Gaza is over.  How are we thinking about what happens in Gaza itself?  How is it governed?  Where is – where does the security come from?  How do we begin to rebuild?  And critically, how we get on a path to invest in lasting peace.  And for us, of course, that has to result in a state for the Palestinians.

So, all of that’s on the agenda in our conversations.

MR MILLER:  Michael.

QUESTION:  The Gaza Health Ministry today is talking about more than a hundred Gazans who have been killed.  And there seems to be some confusion –  you mentioned the Israeli effort to articulate safe areas.  There seems to be some confusion in Gaza about where exactly those are.  How would you assess the Israeli – holding to the commitments they made to you yesterday to do a better job protecting civilians?

And a second question.  There was a New York Times report yesterday about an Israeli intelligence assessment that was floating around that appeared to, more or less, have the entire Hamas attack plan.  Are you aware of that?  Is the U.S. Government aware of that report?  And how has that affected the way you’re using Israeli intelligence and assessments in your analysis?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So first, on the civilian protection and humanitarian assistance piece of this, as I said, that is absolutely imperative.  And we saw Israel take steps immediately today to start to get information to people about where safe areas are, how they can get out of harm’s way.  And we’re just talking about right now today – and I haven’t had a chance to see exactly what happened today; I have seen that information start to get out.  I saw the plans that Israel has in a multiplicity of ways to do everything possible to protect civilians, including making sure that they have the information they need and there are ways to accommodate them.  And this is going to be very important going forward.  It’s something we’re going to be looking at very closely.

In terms of the report in the Times on the conflict, there is going to be plenty of opportunity for a full accounting of what happened on October 7th, including looking back to see what happened, who knew what when, and Israel’s been very clear about that.  Right now, the focus is on making sure that they can do everything possible to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, to make sure that civilians are protected, to make sure that humanitarian assistance gets in – and as I said, to also look at what happens once this conflict is over, what happens to Gaza, what happens more broadly to getting us on a path to lasting peace and security.

So, we’re focused on all of that.  I think there will be time – and I know this will happen, there’ll be accountability of looking at what led up to October 7th.

Thanks.

MR MILLER:  Thank you, all.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, everyone.