US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Israel to avoid further civilian casualties and destruction in Gaza as the Jewish State reiterated the need to “finish the war.”
The top American diplomat met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet on Tuesday as part of his fourth tour in the region since the war with Hamas broke out.
While speaking with the Israeli leaders, Blinken “stressed the importance of avoiding further civilian harm and protecting civilian infrastructure in Gaza,” which has been devastated by the ongoing airstrikes, according to a handout from the US State Department on the secretary of state’s visit.
Blinken and Netanyahu also “discussed ongoing efforts to secure the release of all remaining hostages and the importance of increasing the level of humanitarian assistance reaching civilians in Gaza,” the State Department said.
The two also likely discussed the refugee situation in Gaza, with Blinken previously stating the importance of Israel allowing hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians to reclaim their homes.
Blinken’s position stood in stark contrast with that of Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who proposed that Palestinians should not be allowed to return to the ruins of northern Gaza until the more than 130 hostages still being held by Hamas are released.
Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’s political leader, has reiterated that it will only free the remaining hostages from Gaza once Israel agrees to release every Palestinian prisoner being held in Israeli jails.
“They will absolutely not retrieve their captives except after all our prisoners in occupation prisons are released,” Haniyeh said during a conference in Qatar Tuesday.
While Blinken has been advocating for an end to the months-long war that has seen an unprecedented death-toll in the decades of violence between the Jewish State and Palestine, Israeli officials do not appear eager to accept any form of truce.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz told Blinken Tuesday that the IDF will continue to focus on its mission to eradicate Hamas for the “security of our people,” CNN reports.
The American and Israeli officials, however, did agree that it was important to keep the war enclosed in Gaza and avoid having the conflict spread as tensions heat up in Lebanon between the IDF and the Hezbollah terror group.
“We have to find a way, a diplomatic way, to put a lot of pressure on Iran and Hezbollah to withdraw them as far as we can,” Katz told Blinken of the fighting along the northern border. “The thing is to put a lot of pressure now to prevent war tomorrow.”
Katz ultimately warned that a war on two fronts for the Jewish State would result in the IDF having to “destroy Lebanon,” an outcome Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said he wanted to avoid by establishing stability talks with Israel.
Blinken’s meeting came as Hezbollah deputy chief Naim Qassem said in a televised statement Tuesday that the terror group would like to avoid war in Lebanon, “but if Israel expands, the response is inevitable to the maximum extent required to deter Israel.”
The uneasiness along the northern borders comes as the IDF continues its advancement in southern Gaza, with its Commando Brigade’s Maglan and Duvdevan units currently operating in Khan Younis.
The IDF said Tuesday it raided several of Hamas’ bases in the area, including underground tunnels, with the Israeli military looking to gain “operational control” just as it has in northern Gaza.
The Israeli military has since released video of its operations in Khan Younis, showing its soldiers taking out a Hamas fighter who hurled an explosive at the Jewish troops.
The IDF added that its Duvdevan snipers killed nine Hamas operatives during the recent fighting in the southern hub.
Meanwhile, in central Gaza’s city of Bureij, Israel claimed to have “uncovered the largest weapons production site since the beginning of the war.”
The weapons manufacturing plant was said to have contained components for long-range missiles capable of reaching Israel, as well as explosives and mortar shells.
The site was discovered in the middle of a densely populated civilian area, with several tunnel shafts located nearby, the IDF said.
The discovery comes after a day of intense fighting in Central Gaza, where six Jewish soldiers were killed on Monday along with three others in southern Gaza, one of the deadliest days for the IDF since the ground incursion began.
The IDF has reported at least 185 soldiers’ deaths since the ground incursion began in October.