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Secretary Antony J. Blinken Remarks to the Press

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good afternoon, everyone.  About an hour ago, two American citizens held by Hamas since October 7th were released.  These two Americans are now safely in the hands of Israeli authorities in Israel.  We expect a team from the U.S. embassy to see them very shortly.  Over the coming hours, they’ll receive any support and assistance they need, and of course we’re very anxious to be able to reunite them with their loved ones.  We welcome their release.  We share in the relief that their families, friends, and loved ones are feeling.

But there are still 10 additional Americans who remain unaccounted for in this conflict.  We know that some of them are being held hostage by Hamas, along with an estimated 200 other hostages held in Gaza.  They include men, women, young boys, young girls, elderly people from many nations.  Every single one of them should be released.

Since the earliest hours of this crisis, the President has made clear that he will do everything possible to secure the release of every hostage.  During my own recent travel to the region, I emphasized the urgency and importance of this to the United States and pressed our partners to do everything they can to help us secure the release.

Since that time, we’ve continued to work relentlessly with partners to do just that.  I can’t speak publicly about the details of these efforts, and I know you understand that, but the urgent work to free every single American, to free all other hostages continues – as does our work to secure the safe passage out of Gaza for the Americans who are trapped there.  In this particular instance, I want to thank the Government of Qatar for their very important assistance.

When I was in Israel last week, I met with the families of U.S. citizens that Hamas has taken hostage.  President Biden too had the opportunity to hear directly from the families.  It’s impossible to adequately put into words the agony they’re feeling of not knowing the fate of their loved ones, worrying relentlessly about them – for their safety, for their security, for their wellbeing.  No family anywhere should have to experience this torture.

What I shared with the families, as the President did as well, is that the entire United States Government will work every minute of every day to secure their release, to bring their loved ones home.  They have my solemn pledge, those who continue to have loved ones held hostage by Hamas, that we’ll continue to do that, working as though these family members were our own.

With that, I’m happy to take a few questions.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary?

MR MILLER:  Matt – we’ll do Matt first.

QUESTION:  So thanks for coming down, Mr. Secretary.


QUESTION:  I’m just – you said you wouldn’t talk about specific details, but I’m wondering – you did thank the Government of Qatar.  And I’m wondering since you were there, and they have an office – they host a Hamas office – if you could elaborate a little bit on what their role was and if you continue to think that that channel there, them having an office there, is worthwhile.

And then secondly, a lot has been made by you, by the President, by other officials about how it is important for Israel, once – if and when it begins a ground incursion into Gaza, for it to respect the rules of war, international – and I am curious if you think that to date, even before that ground incursion has started, if Israel is respecting those rules and laws?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Matt, thanks for the questions.  You’ll understand that because this is an ongoing effort – an ongoing effort to get Americans who are hostage in this moment in Gaza out, to secure their release, to get them back with their families – I really can’t go into any details about what we’re doing, how we’re doing it.  And all I can say with regard to Qatar is in this instance, we very much appreciate their assistance.  Beyond that, I really can’t – I really can’t say because, again, we want to focus on making sure that we’re getting those who remain hostage back home and with their loved ones.  That’s the single most important thing.

With regard to how Israel’s conducting its operations, I think you’ve heard the President speak to this very clearly.  You’ve heard me speak to this very clearly.  We have said we believe strongly that Israel has not only the right but the obligation to defend itself against what – it’s very hard to put into words the nature, the barbarity of the attacks, and they really do have the obligation to defend themselves against it, to do whatever they can to try to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.  But we’ve been very clear as well that the way Israel does this matters, and in particular, it’s important that operations be conducted in accordance with international law, humanitarian law, the law of war as applicable, and that everything be done to minimize the loss of civilian life.  And we continue to focus on that just as we’re also focusing on getting assistance in to people in Gaza who need it.

There will be plenty of time to make assessments about how these operations were conducted, but I can just say for the part of the United States that this continues to be important to us.  And again, it’s what distinguishes us, distinguishes Israel from terrorist groups like Hamas, which not only have absolutely no concern for innocent human life, they intentionally use innocent human lives to hide behind, to use as – quite literally as human shields, knowing that civilians invariably are going to suffer in conflict.

MR MILLER:  Andrea.

QUESTION:  Thanks.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, just following up on that, Hamas has issued a statement through Abu Obaida, and I know the huge caveat that it’s a terror group and one does not attach credibility to that, but they have said that all the hostages – the civilian hostages, which include the Americans – could be released, that this could be the start of something bigger if there are no airstrikes.  Would this be a moment where if – under Israel’s discretion, obviously – it would be wise to pause, to give it more time, to see if this is a moment, since the ground invasion has not started – should even the airstrikes be stopped to see if you could get more people out?

And it was notable, without going into details, that in the President’s statement he said – he expressed his thanks to Israel – to Qatar, rather – in partnership with Israel, a notable connection there.  The obvious inference is that they were working together on this.  Does this give you hope that, despite everything that’s happened, that there could still be a broader relationship and avoid a wider war?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, Andrea.  So two things there.  First, it’s very simple.  Hostages should be released immediately and unconditionally.  That’s been our position from day one; it remains our position.  And to your point, I would not take anything that Hamas says at face value.  I’m not sure anyone in this room would take at face value or report something that ISIS had said – same applies to Hamas.  Our position is clear:  Every hostage needs to be released and needs to be released now.

There is no doubt from my own travels in the region that one of the important things throughout this very difficult period, and since the unconscionable attack by Hamas, is to continue to find ways for countries to cooperate, coordinate, when it’s in their interest to do so.  And we’ll continue to look to that.  Any cooperation that we can elicit that facilitates the release of hostages, any cooperation that we can elicit that secures the provision of humanitarian assistance to the men, women, and children in Gaza who so desperately need it, we work on that every day.  And I think we can say that we’ve seen some of that cooperation.

The broader question, though, I think, is hugely important because what’s abundantly clear is the vast majority of countries, the vast majority of people, want the same thing.  They want a region where countries are working together, where relations are normalized, where there’s greater integration, where people are working together, studying together, traveling, doing business.  The overwhelming majority of people want that.  And we want to see as well the rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people fulfilled in the context of that kind of region.

And that’s one vision, and it remains very much alive in every conversation that I had.  The alternative is equally clear, and it’s very stark: it’s Hamas, it’s Hizballah, it’s Iran, it’s destruction, it’s death, it’s terrorism, it’s darkness.  So the more we are able to make real that first vision, the more I’m convinced that that’s the vision that everyone, or virtually everyone, will subscribe to.

So even as we are working through this challenge, this crisis, it’s important to keep that vision alive because it’s important that people know that there is an alternative, and that everything that they hope for and that they aspire to is going to be best addressed through what I’ve just described, that first vision.  We’ll continue to do that.

MR MILLER:  Jennifer.

QUESTION:  Thanks, Mr. Secretary.  What can you tell us about the condition of these two Americans who have been released?  What is their health status?  And do you have any details on the condition of the Americans who are being held hostage?  Have you seen any proof of life on them?

And then on the Rafah Crossing, what is the holdup in operationalizing this deal, and will we see it open this weekend?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I can’t speak to the condition of the two hostages who were just released, first, out of respect for their privacy; second, because we haven’t had a chance yet – maybe it’s happening as we speak – to get our own team in there to see them, to evaluate them, and most importantly, to reunite them with their loved ones.  So I’m sure that will – that’ll come out in the hours or certainly the days ahead.  But I don’t have anything for you on that now.  Nor do I have anything for you on the status of or condition of Americans who continue to be held by Hamas.

With regard to the Rafah Crossing, as you know, when some of us were traveling together in the region over the past week, getting assistance moving was among my top priorities.  And we worked very hard with the Government of Israel, the Government of Egypt, to do just that, and we secured an understanding that we would develop a plan to move assistance.  That understanding was cemented by President Biden when he was in Israel and also speaking to President El-Sisi of Egypt.  In the time since, we’ve been working relentlessly with Ambassador David Satterfield on the ground, working with the United Nations, with Egypt, with Israel, to put that into motion.  And my expectation is that you’ll see that moving soon.

MR MILLER:  Thank you all.


Source : State.Gov