US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday urged Israel and Palestinians to “protect civilians, especially children”, reiterating that Israel “as a democracy has an extra burden” to do so.
But Blinken again stopped short of urging an immediate ceasefire in the violence that has claimed more than 200 lives, mostly Palestinians, and defended Israel’s week-long campaign in response to Hamas rocket fire.
“We’ve been working intensively behind the scenes to try to bring an end to the conflict,” Blinken told a news conference on a visit to Denmark.
“We are ready to lend support, if the parties seek a ceasefire,” he said.
He reiterated Washington’s support for Israel’s right “to defend itself”, stressing there was “no equivalence between a terrorist group indiscriminately firing rockets at civilians and a country defending its people from those attacks.”
“So we call on Hamas and other groups in Gaza to end the rocket attacks immediately.”
Blinken, who travelled on to Iceland for an Arctic meeting, later called Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi to discuss “US efforts to bring an end to the violence” and voiced “deep concern” over a surge of violence inside Israel between Jewish and Arab citizens, State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
Blinken also spoke with his EU and Emirati counterparts, a day after placing calls to the foreign ministers of Egypt, France, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, according to the State Department.
At his news conference in Copenhagen, Blinken said that Israel “as a democracy has an extra burden to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties.”
That includes journalists, Blinken said, referring to an Israeli air strike on Saturday that destroyed a building in Gaza housing international media outlets Al Jazeera television and US news agency The Associated Press.
The top US diplomat reiterated Washington’s concerns about protecting the media, but also stopped short of condemning the strike.
He said Washington had requested Israel provide “additional details regarding the justification” for the strike.
Blinken said he had not personally seen any information shared by Israeli authorities, and therefore did not want to comment on the legitimacy of the strike.
“Israel has a special responsibility to protect civilians in the course of its self-defence, and that most certainly includes journalists,” he said.
Blinken also defended Washington’s move to block a UN Security Council declaration calling for an end to the hostilities.
“We’re not standing in the way of diplomacy,” Blinken stressed.