CHICAGO: David Satterfield, the recently appointed US special envoy for Middle East humanitarian issues, on Thursday blamed Hamas for all civilian casualties during the current conflict in Gaza.
He also acknowledged that humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians in the territory is currently far below “the bare minimum” needed for survival.
During a briefing attended by Arab News, Satterfield said about 100 aid trucks are now entering Gaza each day but this falls well short of the 150 a day that would constitute the minimum required to address the growing humanitarian crisis there.
He declined to answer questions about reports of escalating violence by Israeli forces in the West Bank, but reiterated that Washington supports Israel’s military campaign to root out Hamas in Gaza.
“Our focus has been on moving humanitarian assistance to meet, as much as we can under the present circumstances, the needs of Palestinian civilians in south and central Gaza on as sustained and sustainable a basis as possible,” Satterfield said.
“I want to note here that we started just two-and-one-half, three weeks ago at zero. We have moved the level of assistance up now to around 100 trucks a day. We are looking at a higher level of assistance to move the proper, according to UN agencies, needed basic humanitarian assistance into south Gaza.
“Three weeks ago we had no fuel accessible to the UN implementers in the south. Fuel is now available from within Gaza for their use for desalination plants, for provision to hospitals in the south and center, and for the movements of the UN implementers themselves.
“And we are working to make certain that there will be further fuel available for the UN, UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross), World Food Program, as this moves ahead.
Describing the current humanitarian assistance provided to Palestinians as “just a start,” Satterfield added: “We understand even 150 trucks a day just meets the bare minimum to provide basic survival humanitarian assistance. Much more is needed beyond that.”
Asked about the growing number of Palestinians killed during more than four weeks of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, Satterfield said that civilian deaths are the result of 15 years of Hamas militancy in the territory and declined to address the specific issue of Israeli military operations.
More than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed in the past month by the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, including as many as 4,000 children, according to health authorities in Gaza, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said this week that the territory “is becoming a graveyard for children.”
Satterfield said US President Joe Biden is working closely with Israeli authorities “to impress the need to conduct the campaign in a manner which minimizes civilian casualties to the maximum extent possible, which allows clearly recognized deconflicted humanitarian sites to be spared from attack. “But, I have to say, for 15, for 16 years, Hamas has deliberately embedded itself in, around and under many of those humanitarian sites. It increases the complexity of any campaign of this kind enormously.”
He added: “We wish to see Israel able to achieve a goal which is not just its right but is its responsibility: to end the threat which this terrorist group (Hamas) poses to Israelis, to end the threat that they have posed to the civilians of Gaza, for whose welfare they care not a whit.
“But how it is done makes all the difference in the world. And humanitarian assistance is a vital, vital requirement throughout.”
Satterfield said the US aid effort is focused on providing support to civilians in central and southern Gaza who have fled the Israeli military operations in the north. Washington does not support Palestinians being forced to leave Gaza, he added.
“The future of Gazans is in Gaza and not in any other place,” he said. “We do not, as a matter of fundamental principle, support or wish to see displacement of Gaza’s population.
“Those now in the south must have every opportunity to return to the north when it is safe to do.”
Satterfield said the US envisions that the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank will ultimately assume authority over Gaza, and that the Biden administration continues to support a two-state solution, the details and process for which “will have to be worked out.”
He reiterated Biden’s support for Israel and said the country “has a responsibility to its own people to end the threat posed by Hamas.”
He added: “We are standing strongly with Israel as it works to achieve that goal. But we have been equally clear … that how the campaign is conducted matters. And it must be conducted in a way that minimizes, to the maximum extent possible, civilian casualties.
“We believe as well, and have made clear, the maximum degree of humanitarian assistance needs to be made available, in as safe and as secure a fashion as can be done, to as many people in Gaza as is possible.
“These are difficult things to achieve, given the nature of what Hamas has done in Gaza over the past 15 years. But they have to be dealt with together, the campaign done in a manner that minimizes civilian casualties and maximum provision of humanitarian assistance.”
Reports suggest that more than 1.5 million Palestinians have fled their homes in the face of the Israeli military barrage. Satterfield acknowledged a four-to-five-hour daily humanitarian pause in hostilities that was announced by the US and Israel earlier on Thursday and said he hoped it would allow more humanitarian aid to enter the territory and reach Palestinians in south and central Gaza who have fled the violence in the north.
He declined to comment on the threat of the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah escalating along the border between the countries, other than to say that Hezbollah and Tehran “understand the president’s very blunt message, which was, for those in the region contemplating a potential spread of this conflict: don’t, don’t, don’t.”