Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised a “very powerful response” if Hamas breaks a ceasefire that ended a deadly 11-day bombardment of the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu made the comment in West Jerusalem on Tuesday during a joint press conference with American Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who travelled to the region to bolster the initial ceasefire agreement.
The Israeli prime minister thanked the United States for “firmly supporting Israel’s right to self-defence” during the violence, in which Israeli air strikes killed at least 248 Palestinians, including 66 children, in Gaza.
At least 12 Israelis, including two children, were killed by rockets fired by Hamas and other armed groups from Gaza during the fighting, which began on May 10 and saw inter-communal violence break out across Israel, as well as several Palestinians killed in protests in the occupied West Bank.
“We too will give meaning to our commitment to our self-defence. If Hamas breaks the calm and attacks Israel our response will be very powerful,” Netanyahu said.
Blinken, in turn, said the US would work to assure international aid to rebuild Gaza would not benefit Hamas.
“We’ll work with our partners closely, with all, to ensure that Hamas does not benefit from the reconstruction assistance,” Blinken said.
The secretary of state said his trip to the region was four-fold: “To demonstrate the commitment of the United States to Israel’s security; to start to work toward greater stability and reduce tensions in the West Bank and Jerusalem; to support urgent humanitarian and reconstruction assistance for Gaza to benefit the Palestinian people; and to continue to rebuild our relationship with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority.”
Leaving today for Jerusalem. Even as we were working with the parties and partners to help reach a ceasefire, we were also focused on the road ahead, including steps we could take to build a better future for Israelis and Palestinians. pic.twitter.com/GQbg5AwkUS
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) May 24, 2021
He also defended against criticism that the administration of President Joe Biden should have taken a more public and firm line with Israel earlier on in the fighting, crediting Washington’s “intense, behind the scenes diplomacy” in bringing about the ceasefire, which was reached through Egyptian mediators on May 21.
He added that building on the agreement “starts with the recognition that losses on both sides were profound”.
‘To be treated with dignity’
Blinken, who was set to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas later in the day before travelling to Jordan and Egypt on Wednesday, also avoided pushing for the renewal of a wider Israel-Palestine peace process, instead calling for more incremental changes.
“We know that to prevent a return to violence we have to use the space created to address a larger set of underlying issues and challenges,” Blinken said.
“And that begins with tackling the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza and starting to rebuild.”
He called for measures to expand opportunities for Palestinians by strengthening the private sector and expanding trade and investment.
“We believe that Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely, enjoy equal measures of freedom and opportunity and democracy,” he said. “To be treated with dignity.”
The words are unlikely to satisfy human rights advocates, who have repeatedly called on the US to condemn Israel’s actions against Gaza, which destroyed residential buildings and infrastructure and which many observers argue amount to collective punishment.
The US previously and repeatedly blocked United Nations Security Council joint statements calling for a ceasefire during the violence.
Blinken also did not address calls from some US legislators to end military aid and arms sales to Israel, with the secretary of state and Netanyahu on Tuesday hailing a US commitment to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system in the wake of the fighting.