Blinken Focuses on Hostage Release, Civilian Protection on Middle East Visit - Spox Tells AWP

  • Monday, October 16, 2023 at 3:46 PM
    Last Update : Saturday, October 21, 2023 at 11:08 AM

Blinken Focuses on Hostage Release, Civilian Protection on Middle East Visit - Spox Tells AWP

(AWP) - Sam Werberg, the U.S. State Department’s regional spokesperson, said the current visit of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the Middle East is “one of the most important visits he has ever made to the region.”

In exclusive statements to AWP, Werberg said that Blinken’s top priority during the visit was “the release of American hostages as well as hostages from other countries.” He said the second priority was “talking to Israeli officials to understand their needs and self-defence capabilities” while the third priority was “monitoring the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.”

The U.S. official said his country had “grave concerns about the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, holding Hamas responsible for the situation there and accusing it of “robbing the Palestinian people of their money and future.”

Hamas and other Palestinian factions launched a surprise attack across the borders on Israeli towns and settlements adjacent to the Gaza Strip, known as the ‘Gaza Envelope,’ resulting in at least 1,300 killed and dozens of others taken hostage.

Israel responded with heavy attacks on Gaza that have claimed the lives of more than 2,300 so far, in addition to injuring nearly 10,000. Entire neighbourhoods were razed to the ground, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee and a comprehensive blockade was imposed on the densely populated enclave, leading to power outages, cuts to the water supply and a lack of fuel.

Werberg pointed out that talks with the Israeli side focus on the importance of protecting civilians in Gaza but also take into consideration Israel’s response to Hamas attacks, as its rocket attacks on Israel continue.

He added in the statements that have been translated from Arabic by AWP, “We do not dictate to Israel how to defend itself. At the same time, we emphasise in our discussions with Israel the importance of protecting the civilians.”

Regarding the deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip, Werberg said, “We have had some discussions with Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Jordan to explore the possibility of sending humanitarian aid directly to the Palestinian people.”

He added, “We want to offer humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip and we are holding discussions with the Israeli side to urge them to avoid causing any harm to civilians.”

Werberg also emphasised that his country will continue working on delivering aid to Gaza, saying “We will continue to do so and we expect that in the coming days there will be a possibility of delivering humanitarian relief directly to the Palestinian people.”

He expressed hope that the step taken by the White House in “appointing a special envoy for humanitarian affairs in the Middle East” would help make progress in delivering humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people. He added that the U.S. will “try to work with Egypt to open humanitarian corridors.”

Werberg denied any plans by the U.S. to “displace the Palestinian people or drive them out of their homes.”

He asserted that the U.S. “will monitor the situation in the region and has concerns about the expansion of this conflict to other places in the area or the intervention of other parties such as Iran and Hezbollah.”

The U.S. diplomat affirmed that Washington’s deployment of some aircraft carriers to the region was a “message to any party that might seek to exploit this situation.”

Werberg also said that the current U.S. administration “believes in a two-state solution as the only solution to the Palestinian issue.”

However, he ruled out negotiations between the Palestinian and Israeli sides “because Hamas is still launching attacks by firing rockets from civilian areas inside the Gaza Strip to civilian areas inside Israel.”

Blinken returned to Israel today, with Washington seeking to contain the crisis and prevent further escalation, after a tour that began with Israel and moved between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE.