White House Says a Cease-Fire Would Only Benefit Hamas

WASHINGTON — The United States on Tuesday rejected growing calls to support a cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas because such a move would only benefit Hamas, a White House spokesperson said.

The spokesperson, John F. Kirby, said the Biden administration supported pauses in the conflict to allow the flow of humanitarian aid. But he said civilian casualties were all but inevitable as Israel tries to vanquish Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“We’re going to continue to make sure Israel has the tools and the capabilities that they need to defend themselves,” Kirby said. “We’re going to continue to try to get that humanitarian assistance in, and we’re going to continue to try to get hostages and people out of Gaza appropriately.”

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Kirby added, “A cease-fire, right now, really only benefits Hamas.”

“It is ugly and it’s going to be messy, and innocent civilians are going to be hurt going forward,” he said. The United States, he added, had not discussed any red lines with Israel.

U.S. and Israeli officials have consistently rejected calls for a cease-fire, insisting that Israel must be given time to eradicate Hamas. But the calls for an end to the fighting are growing louder.

On Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called for a humanitarian cease-fire in an address to the U.N. Security Council. Guterres said it was important to recognize that the attacks by Hamas “did not happen in a vacuum” and that Palestinians had been subjected to 56 years of “suffocating occupation.”

“The grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas,” he said. “And those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

In recent weeks, President has faced pressure from members of his own party in Congress, as well as progressive Jewish groups, who staged a protest against the war on Capitol Hill.

The war erupted after Hamas launched attacks inside Israel’s borders on Oct. 7, killing 1,400 people. The Hamas-run Gaza 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 under pressure to cease-fires in past conflicts with Gaza, including in 2012 after Israel had similarly threatened an invasion and deployed ground forces on the territory’s border. Unlike then, however, Israeli leaders have in this case set Hamas’ total destruction as a goal, making it difficult to back down with limited results.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the Security Council that humanitarian pauses “must be considered” to allow food, water and other necessities to reach Gaza and for civilians to get out of harm’s way.

“There is no hierarchy when it comes to protecting a civilian’s life,” he said. “Civilians are civilians.”

Though Blinken did not specify their length, those pauses would presumably involve a very brief halt in combat well short of a typical cease-fire, which can last for days, weeks or indefinitely.

“Israel has to do everything it can to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Blinken said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “Freezing things in place where they are now would allow Hamas to remain where it is and to repeat what it’s done sometime in the future. No country could accept that.”

The U.N. agency that aids Palestinians, UNRWA, has warned that the region is running low on fuel, which would particularly affect hospitals that are operating generators. Kirby said that the United States would continue to work to get fuel into Gaza, but added that Israel had a legitimate concern that Hamas could abscond with it and use it for military purposes.

Biden conceded Tuesday that it was not reaching civilians fast enough.

c.2023 The New York Times Company

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