The United States on Tuesday rejected growing calls to support a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas because such a move would only benefit Hamas, a White House spokesman said.
Spokesman John F. Kirby said the administration supports pauses in the conflict to allow humanitarian aid to flow. But he said civilian casualties are almost inevitable as Israel tries to defeat Hamas in Gaza.
“We will continue to make sure Israel has the tools and capabilities it needs to defend itself,” Kirby said. “We will continue to try to get that humanitarian aid, and we will continue to try to get the hostages and the people out of Gaza in an appropriate manner.”
Mr Kirby added: “The ceasefire, at the moment, really only benefits Hamas.”
“It’s ugly and it’s going to be messy, and innocent civilians will be hurt in the future,” he said. The United States, he added, had not discussed any red lines with Israel.
US and Israeli officials have steadfastly rejected calls for a cease-fire, insisting that Israel should be given time to root out Hamas. But calls for an end to the fighting are growing louder.
On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for a humanitarian ceasefire in an address to the UN Security Council. Mr Guterres said it was important to recognize that Hamas attacks “did not happen in a vacuum” and that Palestinians had been subjected to 56 years of “suffocating occupation”.
“The complaints of the Palestinian people cannot justify the horrific attacks by Hamas,” he said. “And those horrific attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”
In recent weeks, President Biden has faced pressure from members of his party in Congressas well as progressive Jewish groups, which organized an anti-war protest on Capitol Hill.
The war broke out after Hamas launched attacks inside Israel’s borders on October 7, killing 1,400 people. Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said more than 5,700 people, nearly half of them children, had been killed since Israel began its response to the attack. The figure cannot be independently verified.
Israel has agreed to cease-fires under pressure in past clashes with Gaza, including in 2012 after Israel similarly threatened an invasion and deployed ground forces on the territory’s border. Unlike then, however, Israeli leaders in this case have set the goal of total destruction of Hamas, making it difficult to withdraw with limited results.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken told the Security Council that humanitarian pauses “must be considered” to allow food, water and other supplies to reach Gaza and to get civilians out of the way.
“There is no hierarchy when it comes to protecting civilian lives,” he said. “Civilians are civilians.”
Although Mr. Blinken did not specify their length, but these pauses would likely involve a very brief lull in combat significantly shorter than a typical cease-fire, which can last for days, weeks, or indefinitely.
“Israel must do everything it can to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Blinken said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “Freezing things where they are now would allow Hamas to stay where it is and repeat what it did sometime in the future. No country could accept that.”
The UN aid agency for the Palestinians, UNRWA, has warned that fuel is running out in the region, which would particularly affect hospitals that use generators. Mr Kirby said the United States would continue to work to get the fuel into Gaza, but added that Israel had legitimate concerns that Hamas could abscond with it and use it for military purposes.
Mr. Biden admitted on Tuesday that he is not reaching civilians fast enough.