White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Sunday blamed Hamas for ending the temporary cease-fire agreement with Israel.
In an appearance on ‘Fox News Sunday,’ Kirby told host Shannon Bream that the United States believes eight or nine Americans are still held hostage by Hamas in Gaza, including one woman whose condition and whereabouts are unknown.
‘We just don’t have perfect visibility,’ Kirby said. ‘We’re at this literally by the hour, and we want to get that [cease-fire] put back in place so that, again, more hostages can come out.’
‘Hamas is the reason that the pause ended, because they refused to put on the list additional women and children that we know that they are holding and they’re refusing to let go,’ Kirby said. ‘We are working literally by the hour to see if we can get this back on track.’
A weeklong cease-fire that expired Friday facilitated the release of dozens of the 240 Israeli and foreign hostages in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. But Israel has called its negotiators home and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has committed the Israel Defense Force to removing Hamas from power in Gaza.
Bream confronted Kirby with remarks from Democratic members of Congress regarding military aid to Israel, including progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, D-N.Y., who said recently, ‘What we are witnessing is the gross violation of human rights in Gaza and that is being done with U.S. military assistance.’
‘What’s being done with U.S. military and security assistance is helping our friend and partner, Israel, go after a truly genocidal threat, a threat posed by Hamas,’ Kirby said in response. ‘And I think it’s just too easy as we get further and further and further away from the 7th of October to forget what happened on that day: 1,200 Israeli literally slaughtered, kids in front of their parents, parents in front of their kids. And we’ve got to help Israel eliminate their threat to the Israeli nation and the Israeli people from that threat, from Hamas, and we’re going to keep doing that, absolutely.’
Recognizing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Kirby said the Israeli forces have been ‘receptive’ to messages from the United States and altered the way they’ve conducted some operations to spare civilians, even though Hamas militants are said to hide behind civilians in key infrastructure and safe zones.
Still, Kirby said, ‘too many’ thousands of civilians have been killed and wounded, while 1 million people have been displaced internally in Gaza. ‘We’re not blind to the humanitarian crisis, which is why we worked so hard to get that pause in place for seven days so that we could get hostages out and get an accelerated amount of food, water, medicine and fuel into Gaza,’ he said.
Kirby reiterated how Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Israeli counterparts when he was there about the need to ‘reform’ and ‘revitalize’ the Palestinian Authority in a way to meet the ‘aspirations and the needs of the Palestinian people.’ Netanyahu has said Israel does not want to occupy or control Gaza after the conflict ends.
‘We agree with them on that,’ Kirby said in response Sunday. ‘We don’t want to see them occupy Gaza. We don’t think that that is a long-term strategic goal that is really achievable or wise for the Israeli people. We believe that at the core, the future of governance in Gaza has got to be something that the Palestinian people have a vote in, a voice in. That they have governance that it truly representative of them and their aspirations.’
Kirby said Israel is a sovereign nation and denied that the U.S. was placing ‘red lines’ on aid.
Israel on Sunday ordered more evacuations in and around Gaza’s second-largest city of Khan Younis, followed by heavy bombardment, as the military’s offensive shifted to the southern half of the territory, where Israeli officials say Hamas leaders are hiding.
Fears of a wider conflict intensified, as a U.S. warship and multiple commercial ships came under attack Sunday in the Red Sea, the Pentagon said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.