SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good evening, everyone, and thanks for bearing with us through a long day.

So this is my fourth trip to Israel since the Hamas terrorist attacks of October 7th.  On my last visit here, I discussed the potential for humanitarian pauses to facilitate the release of Hamas’s hostages, the surge of humanitarian assistance, the protection of Palestinian civilians.

And I said that there were a number of issues that needed to be worked through, but that the United States was committed to achieving these goals.

Today – today – marks the seventh day of the humanitarian pause in Gaza that the United States worked closely with Israel, Qatar, and Egypt to put in place.  The seventh day that hostages have been freed and are returning home to their families. The seventh day that significantly more humanitarian assistance is getting into the people of Gaza who need it.  And the seventh day that civilians in Gaza have been able to move to safer areas.

I’ve come, again, here today to advance a number of goals.

Our immediate focus is working with our partners to extend the pause so that we can continue to get more hostages out of Gaza and more assistance in.

We share the elation, the relief, of the families from more than a dozen countries, including the United States, who’ve been reunited with their loved ones.  And yet, there are scores of family here in Israel, the United States, and around the world whose loved ones continue to be held captive and who are desperate to get them home safely.

We will not stop working until we get every hostage back home with their families and loved ones.

At the same time, we continue to surge humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians in Gaza.  Together with the UN, our partners in the region, we have significantly increased the flow of food, water, medicine, fuel to power desalination plants, hospitals, and other critical infrastructure.

Just over the past week, the mechanisms that we helped to negotiate and implement have more than doubled the number of trucks getting Gaza.  But this is still not enough to meet the needs of its people, which is why we continue to work urgently to get more aid in and to get it in faster.

Sustaining and increasing the flow of humanitarian aid, in particular fuel, restocking stores with commercial goods – these are vital to the lives and livelihoods and well-being of men, women, and children.

That’s especially true for the most vulnerable parts of the population: children, the elderly, pregnant women, people with disabilities.  And it’s even more pressing as winter sets in, bringing with it a heightened risk of infectious disease outbreaks.  The Government of Israel agrees with the imperative of humanitarian assistance and the need to sustain it.

Prime Minister Netanyahu also made clear that Israel intends to resume its military operations against Hamas when Hamas stops releasing hostages.  As we’ve said from the outset, Israel has the right to do everything it can to ensure that the slaughter Hamas carried out on October 7th can never be repeated.  Hamas cannot remain in control of Gaza.  It cannot retain the capacity to repeat that carnage.

That was only underscored by this morning’s appalling terrorist attack on people waiting at a bus stop in Jerusalem, which killed three Israeli civilians and wounded at least six others, including two American citizens.  Hamas has claimed responsibility for that attack.  It called its perpetrators heroic.

We mourn those killed, just as we mourn the loss of every innocent civilian life, Israeli or Palestinian.

But as I’ve also said since I first came here after October 7th, the way Israel defends itself matters.  It’s imperative that Israel act in accordance with international humanitarian law and the laws of war, even when confronting a terrorist group that respects neither.

In my meetings today with the prime minister and senior Israeli officials, I made clear that before Israel resumes major military operations, it must put in place humanitarian civilian protection plans that minimize further casualties of innocent Palestinians.

That means taking more effective steps to protect the lives of civilians, including by clearly and precisely designating areas and places in southern and central Gaza where they can be safe and out of the line of fire.

It means avoiding further significant displacement of civilians inside of Gaza.  It means avoiding damage to life-critical infrastructure, like hospitals, like power stations, like water facilities.

And it means giving civilians who’ve been displaced to southern Gaza the choice to return to the north as soon as conditions permit.  There must be no enduring internal displacement.

All of this can be done in a manner that still enables Israel to achieve its objectives.

Of course, we know that every one of these elements is made more complicated by the fact that Hamas intentionally embeds itself with civilians, within and below hospitals, schools, apartment buildings, refugee camps.

But Israel has the most sophisticated – one of the most sophisticated militaries in the world.  It is capable of neutralizing the threat posed by Hamas while minimizing harm to innocent men, women, and children.  And it has an obligation to do so.  Ultimately, that’s not just the right thing to do, it’s also in Israel’s security interest.  The prime minister and members of the war cabinet agreed with the need for this approach.

We discussed the details of Israel’s ongoing planning, and I underscored the imperative to the United States that the massive loss of civilian life and displacement of the scale we saw in northern Gaza not be repeated in the south.  As I told the prime minister, intent matters, but so does the result.

At the same time, Hamas has choices, too.  Hamas could immediately release all of the hostages it holds.  It could stop using civilians as human shields and stop using civilian infrastructure to stage and launch terrorist attacks.

Hamas could lay down its arms, surrender the leaders who are responsible for the slaughter, the torture, the rapes of October 7th.  Hamas could renounce its stated goal of eliminating Israel, killing Jews, and repeating the atrocities of October 7th again and again and again.

Meanwhile, everyone around the world who cares about protecting innocent civilians, innocent lives, should be calling on Hamas – indeed, demanding of Hamas – that it immediately stop its murderous acts of terror and deplorable use of innocent men, women, and children as human shields.

In our meetings with Israeli leaders here and in Jerusalem and Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, we discussed our continued focus on preventing the conflict from spreading – whether to the West Bank, to Israel’s northern border, or to the broader region.

I raised our deep concerns about steps that could escalate tensions in the West Bank, including extremist settler violence and proposals from parts of the Israeli coalition government to further expand settlements.  I made clear our expectations about addressing these issues.

We also focused on what we can – what we must do now to prepare for the day after the conflict, to create the conditions for a durable and lasting peace, building on the principles that I set out a few weeks ago during the G7 meeting in Tokyo.

Breaking out of the cycle of violence, the cycle of conflict, ensuring Israel’s enduring security demands improving the lives of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank in immediate, tangible ways, and providing them with a credible path toward their legitimate aspiration for statehood.

In our ongoing conversations with Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab leaders, we’ll discuss practical steps to make real a just and lasting peace and what each of us is prepared to do to help achieve it.

We have no illusions this is going to be easy.  We will surely have disagreements along the way.

But if we’re going to move forward on practical steps toward lasting peace, lasting security, we have to be willing to work through those disagreements, because the alternative – more terrorist attacks, more violence, more innocent suffering – is unacceptable.

That is why the United States is here and we’re leading toward this goal.

With that, happy to take some questions.

MR MILLER:  The first question goes to Humeyra Pamuk with Reuters.

QUESTION:  Hello, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good evening.

QUESTION:  You just said the U.S. is urging Israel to ensure the protection of civilians before starting its operations in southern Gaza.  I’m wondering – you talked about what you made clear to Prime Minister Netanyahu and the war cabinet, but what concrete and specific assurances have you gotten from them, if any?  Based on what you heard from them today, are you confident Israel will follow the international laws of war in southern Gaza when it resumes its military operations?

My second question is you and others in the administration have repeatedly said that United States wants to see a revitalized Palestinian Authority to rule Gaza and the West Bank.  So could you tell us what exactly the U.S. vision is for a revitalized PA?  And does it include a reshuffle in the leadership?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, Humeyra.  So as I said, we made clear the imperative that before any operations go forward in southern Gaza that there be a clear plan in place that puts a premium on protecting civilians, as well as sustaining and building on the humanitarian assistance that’s getting into Gaza.  And the Israeli Government agreed with that approach.

There are concrete steps that it’s not appropriate for me to detail here tonight that we know and we heard can make – ensure, to the best of anyone’s ability, that that happens.  It’s obviously challenging, given the particular conditions that Israel has to deal with in getting to Hamas and making sure, again, that it can’t represent the threat that it posed on October 7th.

But again, Israel understands the imperative of protecting civilians, the imperative of the humanitarian assistance, and we’ll continue to work to ensure that that carries forward in practice.

And again, as I said to the prime minister, to the war cabinet, intent is obviously where you start and it’s vitally important.  And I’m very confident in the intent, but results, of course, are fundamentally what matters.

With regard to the Palestinian Authority, we’ve said – and indeed, I had an opportunity to discuss today with President Abbas – the need for reform, the need to revitalize, to revamp the Palestinian Authority so that it can most effectively meet the aspirations of the Palestinian people and deliver for them.  There are a number of things that go into that including, for example, reform so that it more effectively combats corruption, that it engages and empowers civil society, that it supports free press and open media, and a number of other things.

Leadership choices – these are, of course, up to the Palestinian people and Palestinians themselves.  But there are a number of things that we think would be critical to making sure that, again, the Palestinian Authority can be effective in helping to advance the aspirations and the needs of its people.

MR MILLER:  For the next question, Tal Shalev with Walla.

QUESTION:  Secretary Blinken, reportedly there are disagreements between you and the Israeli Government about the way forward regarding the timetable.  Is there a time limit from the U.S. point of view on the operation, on the continuation of the operation in Gaza?  And another question.  There are about 140 hostages still left in Gaza.  Many of them are reportedly severely injured, and yet the Red Cross hasn’t yet visited them.  Can you clarify if this was indeed included in the agreement?  And if it was, why isn’t it being implemented, and why is Israel pressured to continue to expand the humanitarian assistance to Gaza while the Hamas does not let humanitarian access to our hostages?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  First part of the question – we support, continue to support, will continue to support Israel’s efforts to do everything possible to ensure that Hamas cannot repeat the horrors of October 7th.  And that means, among other things, that Hamas cannot remain responsible for governance in Gaza and it cannot retain the capacity to repeat those attacks.  How Israel does it, those are decisions for Israel to make.  But as I’ve said, we also believe it’s very important that, in engaging in that effort, the way it does matters, makes a big difference.  And as we’ve just discussed, the imperative of putting a premium on protecting civilians and ensuring humanitarian assistance flows into Gaza is something that is vital to us and something that the Israeli Government agrees with.

On the hostages, I’m not going to get into any of the negotiations or any agreements.  But clearly it would be very beneficial and important for the Red Cross to have access to hostages, to be able to check on their well-being and condition.  Having said that, of course none of that should be necessary because there shouldn’t be any hostages in the first place.  That horrific part of what Hamas did on October 7th is something that we are dealing with now every single day.  The positive development is, as I said, we’re now completing the seventh day where hostages have been returned to their families.  And that’s a very positive and powerful thing; it’s something that we want to see continue.  And Hamas should release everyone right now.  But in the absence of doing that, and as this process, I hope, continues, yes, it would be very good for the Red Cross to have access and to see them.

The question of humanitarian assistance is something fully apart from Hamas or the hostages, because this is about innocent men, women, and children in Gaza – they’re not Hamas – who desperately need the aid, who desperately need the help.  Conditions in Gaza are very, very, very difficult and severe.  And the need for the most basic things – for food, for water, for medicine, for fuel to make sure that people can have clean water, that they can have sewage systems that work – that’s absolutely essential and imperative.

And as I said earlier, particularly as we head into winter, we’re already seeing the potential for disease outbreaks because, for example, of a lack of potable drinking water.  So this is an imperative.  It’s an imperative because it’s the right thing to do; it’s an imperative because it’s the necessary thing to do.  And again, I come away convinced from my discussions with the Israeli Government that they fully not only understand that, but believe that and will act on it.

MODERATOR:  Vivian Salama with The Wall Street Journal.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr.  Secretary.  I know it’s been a long day, so apologies for the bundle of questions.  Hamas is believed to have released the vast number of women and children that were in its captivity.  So what assurances, if any, do you have that Hamas might be open to releasing male hostages?  And on the flip side of that, is Israel prepared to agree to the conditions set out by Hamas on that?

Separately, President Biden has signaled that he – that the U.S. is prepared to issue visa bans on what he described as extremist Israeli settlers.  What is the status of that?

And forgive me – one last one on India.  Federal prosecutors on Wednesday charged India – an Indian national in a murder-for-hire scheme targeting a Sikh separatist and activist in New York who’s a U.S. citizen.  According to the indictment, the assassination plot was organized by an Indian Government official.  The U.S. charges come shortly after Canada – Canada’s prime minister said that an Indian government – the Indian Government participated in extrajudicial killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil.  Are you concerned that India is turning to tactics that violate international human rights law to silence its critics around the world?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, Vivian.  So three – not bad.  All right.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Shorter than usual.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  But yes, nice and concise.  So on the release of more hostages – look, I can’t speak to Hamas’s views or its intentions.  I can tell you that for the United States, for Israel, for other countries who have their citizens being held captive by Hamas, clearly we want to see this process continue, move forward.  We want an eighth day and beyond so that people can be returned to their families, and that applies to all hostages, whatever category they may happen to be in.  But it’s also up to Hamas, and again, I can’t speak to their intentions.  I can say that I think this process has clearly been beneficial, and the fact that so many have now been reunited with their loved ones and families is something we, I think, take joy in.  But a lot of unfinished business, and we’re determined to finish it when it comes to bringing the hostages home.

With regard to extremist violence, all I can tell you is this:  We’re looking to the Israeli Government to take some additional steps to really put a stop to this.  And at the same time, we’re considering our own steps.

Finally, with regard to India, first, this is an ongoing legal matter.  So you’ll understand I can’t comment on it in detail.  I can say that this is something we take very seriously.  A number of us have raised this directly with the Indian Government in past weeks.  The government announced today that it was conducting an investigation, and that’s good and appropriate, and we look forward to seeing the results.

MR MILLER:  And the final question goes to Qassam Al Khateeb with Al Sharq.

QUESTION:  Good evening, Mr. Secretary.  This is Qassam Khateeb from Al Sharq News.  My questions:  Lots of discussion are going on with your call to revamp the Palestinian Authority leadership.  Do you consider that via free, fair election in Gaza, Jerusalem, and West Bank?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So first, as a matter of basic principle, we support free and fair elections around the world, including, of course, for Palestinians.  They should have a right to choose their own leaders, and the way to do it is through free and fair elections.  But that has to be a process, and it’s something that we need to be talking about as we move from the conflict to, as we’ve been calling it, the day after – looking at what needs to happen in Gaza, as well as the West Bank, but starting in Gaza particularly with regard to things like governance, like security, like rebuilding.  And part of that discussion needs to be about elections.

But again, it’s a process, and it’s something that work needs to go into in the time ahead.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So again, we’re focused right now on Gaza and the – what we need to see happen in Gaza to make sure that there is governance that is different from what it has right now, which is Hamas; that is has security; that it has rebuilding.  All of those things are what we’re focused on and need to be focused on.  And as part of that discussion, we’ll obviously look at the question of elections and when and how Palestinians are able to choose their leaders.

Thank you.

MR MILLER:  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, everyone.  Have a good evening.

U.S. Department of State

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