President Joe Biden says it was Hamas’s refusal to release young women civilian hostages that led to a breakdown in the humanitarian pause in fighting agreed by Israel and the Gaza militant outfit.
Biden made this remark when he spoke with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over phone Thursday to discuss developments in Gaza.
The President expressed his deep concern for the hostages that remain in the custody of Hamas, and reiterated that the Red Cross officials must be permitted to access them.
Biden’s allegation comes in the wake of media reports citing evidence of rape, sexual violence and abuse of Israeli civilians, both men and women, carried out by Hamas while they were in captivity.
The victims and their families testified the harrowing experiences in a tensed meeting of the Israeli War Cabinet in the presence of Prime Minister Netanyahu on Tuesday.
Also, there were reports of sexual assault by the militants during their cross-border attacks in Israeli cities on October 7.
The U.S., Israeli leaders agreed to remain deeply engaged to pursue every possible opportunity to free the remaining hostages, the White House said.
Biden emphasized the critical need to protect civilians from Israeli forces’ operations and to separate the civilian population from Hamas including through corridors that allow people to move safely from defined areas of hostilities.
Meanwhile, hosting UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron at the U.S. State Department, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “It remains imperative that Israel put a premium on civilian protection, and there does remain a gap between exactly what I said when I was there, the intent to protect civilians, and the actual results that we’re seeing on the ground.”
He told reporters that Israel has an obligation to do everything possible to put a premium on protecting civilians and maximizing humanitarian assistance.
UN officials said there is no safe place left for aid agencies in southern Gaza amid the widespread Israeli military attacks targeting Hamas.
Israel resumed combat operations in the thickly populated enclave after seven days of truce expired without renewal on December 1.
Tens of thousands of people who have fled war-ravaged Khan Younis have sought refuge at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
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