Gallant, Blinken discuss ‘shared objective to defeat Hamas’

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Gallant, Blinken discuss ‘shared objective to defeat Hamas’
Caption: Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (left) meets with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Tel Aviv, Oct. 16, 2023. Photo by Ariel Hermoni/Israeli Ministry of Defense.

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 The secretary of state reiterated the Biden administration's opposition to a full-scale ground invasion of Rafah.

Israel remains committed to destroying Hamas in Gaza, including its remaining battalions in Rafah, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a phone call overnight Sunday.

Gallant, according to the Defense Ministry's readout of the call, emphasized that the IDF is conducting a "precision operation" in the city along the border with Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, including securing the Gaza side of the Rafah Crossing, which Israel's military took operational control of last week.

For its part, the Biden administration is opposed to a full-scale ground invasion of Rafah, citing humanitarian concerns, with Blinken stressing this point during the call, according to the readout provided by State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller.

"The Secretary reaffirmed the U.S. opposition to a major military ground operation in Rafah, where over one million people have taken shelter," Miller said, with the top American diplomat underscoring the "urgent need to protect civilians and aid workers in Gaza" and urging Gallant "to ensure assistance can move into Gaza and help address distribution challenges inside of Gaza as Israel pursues Hamas targets."

More than 300,000 residents and displaced persons have already evacuated Rafah to an expanded humanitarian zone in Al-Mawasi as the IDF fights gunmen entrenched in the Strip's last terror bastion, a battle that Jerusalem insists is necessary to win the war.

Blinken "affirmed the ironclad U.S. commitment to Israel's security and the shared objective to defeat Hamas," Miller said.

Gallant, according to the Defense Ministry readout, "stressed the commitment of the State of Israel to continue operating in order to achieve the goals of the war—the release of 132 hostages held by Hamas terrorists, and the destruction of Hamas as a military and governing authority."

Additionally, Gallant discussed with Blinken the IDF's other operational activities across the Strip "in the face of terror hotspots," highlighted in recent days with forces going back into the Jabalia and Zeitoun areas of northern Gaza where Hamas has attempted to reestablish control.

The two men spoke as Israel was observing its annual Memorial Day holiday to honor fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism and ahead of the 76th Independence Day. This year's Memorial Day has an extra significance in the Jewish state, as it is the first observance since the Hamas-led massacre of Oct. 7. Five soldiers were killed in action in Gaza this weekend, in a weighty reminder that Israel remains at war.

"As the State of Israel marks Memorial Day for Israel’s Fallen and Victims of Terror, Minister Gallant highlighted the troops who fought courageously in the face of the Hamas invasion on October 7 and in the battles that followed, the hostages taken by Hamas terrorists, and the innocent civilians who were brutally murdered on the day of the attack," the readout said.

The minister concluded the conversation by thanking Blinken for the "ongoing support provided by the U.S. administration for Israel's security," despite the public disputes over the conduct of the war in Gaza and the most effective way to defeat Hamas while providing protection and aid to noncombatants.

Allies and partners

The Biden administration treats Israel similarly to any other country, Blinken said on Sunday, days after the White House halted an arms shipment to the IDF.

“We treat Israel, one of our closest allies and partners, just as we would treat any other country, including in assessing something like international humanitarian law and its compliance with that law,” the secretary said in an interview with NBC News.

Blinken was commenting on a State Department report submitted to Congress on Friday that was deeply critical of the IDF’s conduct in the Gaza Strip but stopped just short of concluding that it violated international law.

While the report does not conclude that Israel violated requirements for arms sales, it says that Jerusalem provided only “limited information” about the use of U.S.-made munitions in “incidents that raise concerns about Israel’s international humanitarian law compliance.”

Blinken told NBC News that the report makes clear that IDF troops in Gaza are facing an “incredibly complex military environment.”

“You have an enemy that intentionally embeds itself with civilians hiding under and within schools, mosques, apartment buildings, firing at the Israeli forces from those places,” he explained.

He added, “Based on the totality of the harm that’s been done to children, to women, to men who are caught in this crossfire Hamas is making, it’s reasonable to conclude that there are instances where Israel has acted in ways that are not consistent with international humanitarian law.”

The diplomat did not elaborate further on why the Biden administration deems Jerusalem responsible for the harm caused by Hamas’s tactic of using Palestinian noncombatants as human shields.

Blinken did note that the IDF has carried out “hundreds” of inquiries, including criminal probes, into claims of improper behavior by its forces.

“Israel, unlike many other countries, has both the means and the will to try to police itself. So we need to let those play out,” he said.

The Biden administration has withheld approval of a sale to the IDF of two types of precision-guided bombs, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin confirmed during a Senate committee hearing on May 8.

Biden told CNN on May 8 that Washington would stop providing weapons to the Jewish state if the IDF goes into Rafah, the last Hamas terrorist stronghold located in the southernmost Gaza Strip.

A day before Biden issued his threat to Israel, his administration signed off on a sanctions waiver to bypass congressional prohibitions on arms sales to Hamas ally Qatar as well as to Lebanon, Iraq, Kuwait, Yemen, Libya and Saudi Arabia.


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