Shortly after the American secretary of state visited Israel and asked the country to pause fighting to allow aid into Gaza, the Israeli prime minister said that a cease-fire would be contingent on the release of Israeli hostages, a tough stance that seemed to be a rebuff to Washington.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Friday and called for a series of “humanitarian pauses” to allow more deliveries of badly needed food, water, medicine, and other supplies into Gaza, and also to facilitate the release of more than 200 hostages abducted in the deadly Oct. 7 terrorist attacks Hamas launched from the enclave, which it controls.
“I have made clear that we are continuing forcefully, and that Israel refuses a temporary cease-fire that does not include the release of our hostages,” Mr. Netanyahu said. He also stood fast on Israel’s refusal to let fuel enter Gaza — needed to power hospitals and power desalination plants that provide drinking water — even as it allows in limited shipments of other vital supplies.
Mr. Blinken told reporters in Tel Aviv that the United States stood “in solidarity” with Israel, but said that, in meetings with Mr. Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders, he had emphasized that “it matters” how Israel conducted its campaign to defeat Hamas. The group’s Oct. 7 attack killed more than 1,400 people, according to the Israeli government.
“We provided Israel advice that only the best of friends can offer on how to minimize civilian deaths while still achieving its objectives of finding and finishing Hamas terrorists,” Mr. Blinken said. He said they had discussed “concrete steps” to protect civilians, and also “tangible steps” to allow more aid to enter Gaza, but did not elaborate on either topic.
While President Biden continues to declare unambiguous support for Israel, saying the country has a right to defend itself, concern has been growing within his administration about the mounting Palestinian death toll, which has reached more than 9,200, according to the Hamas-controlled Gazan health ministry, as well as the worsening humanitarian conditions and physical destruction brought on by Israel’s bombing campaign and a week-old ground invasion.
With Israel’s ground forces pushing into Gaza’s largest city and its airstrikes killing and wounding many more Palestinians every day, anger is rising across the region even as Mr. Blinken tries to keep Israel’s adversaries from broadening the war. Fighting between Israeli troops and the armed group Hezbollah has escalated along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, and Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, gave a fiery speech on Friday denouncing both Israel and the United States.
After meeting with President Isaac Herzog of Israel, Mr. Blinken said: “It is very important that, when it comes to the protection of civilians who are caught in the crossfire of Hamas’s making, that everything be done to protect them and to bring assistance to those who so desperately need it.”
But he repeated that the United States remained steadfastly behind Israel. He told reporters that he had been shown additional images and videos collected by the Israeli government documenting the slaughter of civilians on Oct. 7. “It remains almost beyond the human capacity to process, to digest,” Mr. Blinken said.
Pauses in the fighting would allow for humanitarian aid to be distributed, would facilitate hostage negotiations, and would let more people exit Gaza through the Rafah border crossing into Egypt, the administration has said. The first several hundred dual nationals, foreigners and staff members of international organizations were allowed to leave this week.
More than a million Gazans have been displaced by the war, and the territory, blockaded by Israel, is dangerously low on food, fuel, water and medicines. After a complete cutoff of outside aid in the first two weeks of the war, scores of trucks with aid are now moving daily into Gaza.
“That’s significant progress in the space of a couple of weeks — but it’s also insufficient,” Mr. Blinken said, echoing the view of the United Nations and aid groups.
Mr. Blinken left Israel for talks in Amman, Jordan, with Jordanian leaders and other regional partners about securing the release of hostages taken by Hamas, and about preventing the war from expanding.
Michael D. Shear, Cassandra Vinograd and Aaron Boxerman contributed reporting.