US Secretary of State Antony Blinken rejected international calls for an immediate Gaza ceasefire amid reports Wednesday of a possible limited hostage release for a pause in the fighting of one to two days.
The Qatari led negotiations to free 10 to 15 hostages has been coordinated with the United States, the source told Reuters, adding that the pause should allow Hamas to gather details of all civilian hostages and secure the release of dozens more.
“The exact number is still unclear at this stage,” said the source, who declined to be named.A separate Egyptian security source also said a 24-48-hour ceasefire or limitation of the main zone of operations was expected within the next week in return for a release of hostages.
The US and other countries have stepped up pressure on Israel to get this done, the source said.
Biden says he urged Netanyahu to authorize a humanitarian pause
US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday he had urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to authorize a pause fighting for humanitarian reasons.
Hamas has asserted that over 10,600 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza war related violence and the United Nations has said that 1.5 million of the 2.7 residents of the enclave have been displaced due to the war. The terror group has also said that some 40% of the fatalities are children.
The United Nations says Gaza’s health system is close to collapse, battered by air strikes, flooded with patients, and running out of medicines and fuel.
Israel has rejected all ceasefire calls until such time as Hamas releases all the hostages. It has also closed down its two crossings into Gaza for commercial and pedestrian traffic until the captives are freed.
Some limited aid has entered Gaza through the Egyptian crossing at Rafah, with Hamas then allowing foreign nationals who had been living in the enclave to leave.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the trickle of humanitarian supplies which has been let in are ‘too little and too late” during a public interview at a Reuters conference on Wednesday.
“People are coming out premises asking for water and bread,” he said, adding that the situation in Gaza is catastrophic.
The UN is in intense negotiations with Egypt, Israel and the US for an effective aid system, Guterres said.
Guterres called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire as he said that the number of children killed in Gaza in the last month, was higher than in any other global conflict.
“There is something wrong in the way [Israel’s] military operation is being run,” Guterres said.
Blinken: pause is acceptable, ceasefire off the table
Blinken said on Wednesday in Tokyo that while a pause is acceptable, a ceasefire can’t be on the table.
“Those calling for an immediate ceasefire [in Gaza] have an obligation to explain how to address the unacceptable result it would likely bring about.” Blinken told reporters in Tokyo.
In that scenario Hamas would be “left in place, with more than 200 hostages, with the capacity and stated intent to repeat October 7th – again and again and again,” Blinken said.
His statement referenced the 1,400 people and the over 240 hostages it seized during its October 7 attack against southern Israel that sparked the Gaza war.
Israel has considered brief humanitarian pauses in exchange for a limited hostage releases. To date, four women were freed, in two separate releases. Israel is now under pressure to weigh a larger pause, of perhaps a day or two, in exchange for the release of 10-15 captives, including some Americans.
Israel has feared prolonged pauses could become a de facto ceasefire. Such pauses also risk paralyzing the IDF military operation, because they could be timed to halt successful advances.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has therefore preferred minimal pauses of an hour or two, or an overall one time exchange.
A number of leading world powers have backed the US and Israel in their concern over a ceasefire even as they would like to see a larger humanitarian pause of a day or two.
Foreign ministers of G7 countries including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, which met in Tokyo on Wednesday.
The G7 condemned the Hamas attack and called for a humanitarian pause to the Gaza War rather than insisting on a full ceasefire.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that the allies of NATO support pauses to allow humanitarian aid to reach Gaza.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters he wanted a significant humanitarian pause in the Gaza conflict to allow for the release of all hostages. Ottawa had previously called for a series of halts in the fighting to allow aid into the enclave but had steered clear of advocating a longer pause.
At the House of Commons on Tuesday, British Prime Mindset Rishi Sunak said that his country care about the suffering of the Palestinian people and “abhorred” the Hamas use of them as “human shields.”
The UK is doubling its funding for humanitarian aid to Gaza and has consistently called for a humanitarian pass, but opposes a “unilateral and unconditional ceasefire,” Sunak said. Such a step “would simply allow Hamas to entrench its position and continue its attacks against Israel” at a time when it is still calling to kill more Israeli civilians, Sunak stated.