State Dept Presser – Dec 5, 2023
The US State Dept spokesperson Matthew Miller held a presser on Dec 5. The Q-A on B’desh and India is tweaked to appear upfront.
MR MILLER: Good afternoon, everyone.
QUESTION: I have two questions. One is on the counterterrorism report of 2022 on Bangladesh suggested that the government, with assistance from the U.S., they have been actively combating militants, leading to a decrease in terrorist incident in Bangladesh. However, the concern raised that the political violence tied to the general election is perceived as a potential risk for the resurgence of militant groups. What is your opinion? Can you suggest any plan to assist with the government in this point?
MR MILLER: So, we have made clear that we want to see a free and fair and peaceful election in Bangladesh, and that continues to be our policy. That continues to be the focus of our engagement with the Bangladeshi Government.
QUESTION: It was about terror – the raise of terrorism and not about the election.
MR MILLER: I understand. We released a report yesterday or in the last few days. I don’t have any further comment than what’s contained in that report.
QUESTION: We have seen your comments yesterday regarding failed assassination attempt on Khalistani Sikh leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in New York, and you directed journalists to the DOJ. But what is happening at the diplomatic level? What kind of message State Department conveyed to the Indian leadership?
MR MILLER: So I also spoke to this yesterday, and I said I wouldn’t comment on the underlying substance because it is an ongoing law enforcement matter and it would be inappropriate for me to do so when DOJ is presenting a case in court. But I also made clear that we have noted at the most senior levels of this government – the Secretary of State has raised this directly with his foreign counterpart that we take this issue very seriously. They told us they would conduct an investigation. They have publicly announced an investigation. And now we’ll wait to see the results of the investigation, but it’s something we take very seriously.
QUESTION: So Indian Government is still not cooperating with the Canadian investigation into the murder of another Khalistani leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar. So how confident and optimistic you are that Indian Government will cooperate with the DOJ?
MR MILLER: So, two things. One, we have urged them to cooperate with the Canadian investigation. And number two, with respect to their own investigations – their own investigation I was speaking to, not the DOJ investigation – with their own investigation – they have said that they will conduct it. We are looking forward to seeing the results of that investigation, and I’m not going to make any assessments, obviously, before the investigation itself is completed.
QUESTION: But do you think this is an attack on the U.S. sovereignty?
MR MILLER: Is attack on what?
QUESTION: U.S. sovereignty.
MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak beyond what – the information that’s contained in an indictment for what I think are fairly obvious reasons.
MR MILLER: Violence in the West Bank this year is at levels not seen since the Second Intifada, and in recent weeks, an alarming surge in violent acts has driven this unwelcome record even higher. This includes unprecedented levels of violence by Israeli extremist settlers targeting Palestinians and their property, displacing entire communities, as well as violence by Palestinian extremist militants against Israeli civilians.
Today, as President Biden recently warned, the United States is taking action to address this escalating violence in the West Bank by implementing a new visa restriction policy under Section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Under this policy, the United States will pursue visa restrictions against individuals involved in or meaningfully contributing to the undermining of peace, security, or stability in the West Bank. This includes acts of violence against persons or property, as well as undue restrictions on civilians’ access to essential services and basic necessities. Immediate family members of such persons may also be subject to these restrictions.
The department is pursuing initial action against individuals pursuant to this visa restriction policy today. We will designate additional individuals pursuant to this policy in the coming days.
We unequivocally condemn attacks by violent Israeli extremists against Palestinians, and those by violent Palestinians extremists against Israelis. These acts threaten West Bank stability in the immediate term and take us further away from a future in which Palestinians and Israelis can both live in – both can live in peace and security, in two states.
As Secretary Blinken made clear to leaders of the Government of Israel last week during his visit to the region, they need to do more to stop extremist violence against Palestinians, and hold those responsible for it accountable.
We will continue to insist that both Israeli and Palestinian leaders take action to interrupt the increasing levels of violence against civilians. Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have a responsibility to uphold stability and protect civilians in the West Bank.
Such measures are particularly critical at this juncture. Both Israelis and Palestinians deserve a horizon of hope free from the violence – free from violence, intimidation, and threats. The United States will continue to work to bring this vision closer to reality.
QUESTION: Oh, okay. That’s it? So on that, are you saying that today, or even already now since the announcement came out in the last hour, actual bans have been imposed?
MR MILLER: We are taking steps to impose —
QUESTION: But have they been?
MR MILLER: They are happening today. Whether they happened before I came out to this podium or they’re happening this afternoon, they’re happening today, and we will have more coming in the coming days. We expect, ultimately, for this action to impact dozens of individuals and potentially their family members.
QUESTION: Okay. And then just to – just to put a fine point on this, you say it will also affect Palestinians who are implicated in violence against Israelis in the West Bank or elsewhere, I presume. But the Palestinians are not included under the Visa Waiver Program. So what’s the impact?
MR MILLER: They can still apply for visas to come under – to come to the United States, and under this —
QUESTION: No, no, no, so I’m saying —
MR MILLER: — and under this program would not – would not be eligible for one.
QUESTION: No, no. So – right. So what’s the impact on an Israeli settler who you implicate in violence in terms of them being able to come to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program?
MR MILLER: They will not be able to, and I’ll explain the – how it would work. So anyone who currently – any Israeli citizen who currently has a visa to enter the United States will be notified that that visa has been revoked. Anyone who —
QUESTION: Well, hold on. Not any Israeli. Any Israeli implicated and targeted in this.
MR MILLER: That’s – in this program. That’s what – in this program. Yes, in this program —
MR MILLER: — will be notified that their – I was speaking about this program.
QUESTION: Okay. All right. And —
MR MILLER: I thought that was evident. Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Well, yeah, but who knows what goes on —
MR MILLER: Fair enough. No, fair – fair enough. Good to be precise. Will be notified that their visa is revoked. Any other Israeli citizen who is designated as a result of this program but does not currently have a visa will not be notified. If they want to travel to the United States and they apply through ESTA, which is the way that it works if you’re currently a Visa Waiver Program country, that application will be rejected. They are then able to go and apply for a visa, and if they’re – have been designated as a result of this program, that visa application will be rejected.
QUESTION: Okay. And does this have broader implications for the visa – Israel’s membership in VWP?
MR MILLER: No, this is separate from that. Okay.
MR MILLER: Gillian.
QUESTION: So the Israeli law enforcement officials are now claiming that they have more than 1,500 pieces of evidence that Hamas committed sexual abuse, sexual atrocities on October 7th. Are you aware of any evidence or claims that Hamas sexually abused any American citizens on or since that day?
MR MILLER: So I’m not going to speak to any evidence that we have about the status of people who have been held hostage. That goes back to our longstanding policy of not talking about the status of hostages and what we know about their whereabouts. We’ve never thought it’s productive to the – to our work to try to bring them home to do so. I will say I’m not aware of reports with respect to American citizens on October 7th. They may exist, but I’m not aware of them here.
But certainly, we have seen the evidence that the atrocities that Hamas committed on October 7 including – included sexual assault. If you looked at the presentation that was made at the United Nations yesterday, it was shocking, horrific. We hope that it opens the world’s eyes to what happened on October 7th, because there was incredibly compelling firsthand accounts from eyewitnesses and first responders and physicians about Hamas’s sexual violence against women and girls on that day.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. have any reason to think it possible that Hamas could have continued or at any time sexually abused hostages in its custody, whether they’re American or not?
MR MILLER: I am just not going to speak to what we know about the status of hostages inside Gaza. As I said, we’ve never thought that’s productive to our efforts to bring them home.
QUESTION: Yesterday, you told us that the Biden administration, State supports the Israeli ongoing investigation into this. Can you share any more detail or clarity about, like, does the U.S. support that effort in spirit, or are you sort of materially helping in the investigation?
MR MILLER: We support their investigation. If they asked us for any substantive support, I’m sure we would of course be willing and open and ready to assist. I don’t know that that request will come in. These are all events that happened inside Israel. So you think about how you conduct that type of a criminal investigation. It’s people who were on the ground that would conduct it, and of course Israel has full capacity to do so. But of course, if they asked for our assistance, we would be ready to assist in any way – any way that was useful.
QUESTION: Last question. The parents of Evan Gershkovich told our channel this morning that the President promised them to do whatever it takes to bring him home and they are – I can send you the (inaudible) but they are essentially disappointed at this point because it appears the administration has not done so. Can you share anything about State’s efforts?
MR MILLER: I will say I saw that interview, and what his family is going through is unimaginable. I don’t think any of us – any of us who have children, it’s hard to imagine your child being held as Evan has been for months now. Should have been released a long time ago. We have made multiple proposals for his release, as well as for the release of Paul Whelan. We are consistently, are constantly discussing this issue with our allies and our partners who can assist us. Not a week goes by without intense activity to bring Paul and Evan home. And I will say that in recent weeks we made a new and significant proposal to secure Paul and Evan’s release. That proposal was rejected by Russia. Shouldn’t have to make these proposals; they never should have been arrested in the first place. They should both be released immediately. But we have made a number of proposals and including a substantial one in recent weeks. And we will continue to work every day to bring Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan home. There is no higher priority for the Secretary of State; there is no higher priority for the President.
QUESTION: This proposal, this new proposal in recent weeks, was it just for Evan or did it also include Paul Whelan?
MR MILLER: It was for both of them. Yeah, it was to bring both of them home. We have made clear all along that we do not want to leave either one of them behind. We want to bring both Evan and Paul home.
QUESTION: Right. And when you say the Russians rejected that, do you mean they have rejected to engage with the United States on this, or they have taken the proposal, looked at it for a couple of days, and then came back and said this is not acceptable to them?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to get into the full details of our exchanges with the Russian Government, but they received the proposal. We know that they – let me just say they rejected it. This was not a case of them not having responded to us. They rejected the offer that was on the table.
QUESTION: Matt, thank you. Just to go back to these sanctions, visa sanctions – there has been an uptick in violence in the West Bank, significantly so in the past few months leading up to this war. Granted, there’s been settler violence for years in the West Bank. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is the first time the U.S. is sanctioning extremist settlers in many years.
MR MILLER: You’re not wrong.
QUESTION: Was there a determining factor as to why now? Why is this only just happening, given that there was a significant surge of violence in the months leading up to this war? Why is the U.S. only doing this now?
MR MILLER: So there was a surge in violence leading up to October 7th. There has been a significant increase from that already heightened level of violence since October 7th. And I will answer it by talking about the first thing that we have done, which is to impress upon the Government of Israel the conclusion of the United States that they need to do more to take action to stop extremist settler violence and to hold accountable extremist settlers who commit acts of violence. We have raised that in a number of conversations with the Government of Israel. The White House has made public that the President has raised that directly with Prime Minister Netanyahu in their conversations. The Secretary has raised it as recently as last Thursday when we were in Israel. And in all those conversations we made clear that while we expected the Government of Israel to take action, the United States was ready and wiling to take our own action if we didn’t see them take actions of their own. So we have not seen sufficient level of actions by the Government of Israel that we think hold people properly accountable. They have taken some steps. They’ve held some people. They’ve put some people in administrative detention. We have made clear we think that when the facts support it, people should be prosecuted if they have committed acts of violence. And so we’ve taken the actions that we, the United States Government, can take. That does not obviate the need for the Government of Israel to take its own actions, and we will continue to be clear with them about it.
QUESTION: And just one follow-up. And this, again, may be an old figure, but some 15 percent worth of Israeli settlers have American citizenship. I know you’ve been asked about this before. Is there going to be a way to hold American Israelis to account who may have committed violence?
MR MILLER: Yeah, a few things. So number one, with respect to the policy that we announced today, we cannot issue visa bans to American citizens. Obviously, they don’t need visas to enter the United States. Number two, it is the Government of Israel that has the responsibility to hold extremist settlers responsible. That includes settlers of any nationality who are committing violent acts against Palestinians. Number three, I’ve been asked sometimes whether we would take our own law enforcement actions. Obviously, we don’t speak to this from the State Department. It’s a question for the Department of Justice, and you shouldn’t interpret my declining to comment on that as any sign of activity other than that I would never comment on law enforcement actions from this podium.
QUESTION: Okay. I have like three quick follow-ups on something that you said yesterday. You said yesterday that you assumed that Hamas does not want to release these women for fear that they are going to talk about sexual violence or rape. So, if we follow this logic, that means Hamas will never release them because they never want the story to be told. Is this something we can go through?
MR MILLER: I hope Hamas will release all the hostages they are holding, especially the women and girls that they continue to hold. So they have released some hostages. There are others that they continue to hold, including women and girls. They had made clear that as part – during the pause they would release them. They changed their mind. I hope they will change it again and let them go free.
QUESTION: Okay. And you said yesterday that Hamas has weapons in churches. Is there some evidence you talk about, or like when you talk about hospitals and schools and you lumped up churches as well?
MR MILLER: I think I said mosques, if I – if I —
QUESTION: You said churches.
MR MILLER: I meant to say mosques in speaking of Gaza. So, there is ample public evidence – not supplied by the U.S. Government, but ample public evidence of them having fought in —
QUESTION: Yes. I just wanted to clear the churches. Okay.
MR MILLER: — of them having concealed weapons and hid their terrorist infrastructure and launched terrorist attacks from inside mosques inside Gaza.
QUESTION: And finally, you said genocide – that you have a clear definition of what is genocide. I assume there is no politics involved; it’s just a clear-cut understanding of what is the definition according to international law. Is that true?
MR MILLER: Correct.
MR MILLER: Go ahead. No, go – we’re trying to move around. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matthew. Thank you, Matthew. A few questions. One, what’s the State Department’s view on the current outbreak that’s affecting Chinese children? Will the State Department support Republicans’ call for a travel ban on China?
MR MILLER: So we will continue to monitor the situation closely and provide important updates should the situation change. I would say for now I would refer you to the CDC for any updates on respiratory illnesses in the PRC. As – this point, the CDC has said publicly it does not have any evidence that it’s a novel pathogen.
QUESTION: And reportedly, Republican senators are struggling to reach an agreement with Democrats on funding for border security, which is a contingency for the GOP in Congress to support further funding for Ukraine. Is the department worried that funding for Ukraine won’t be allocated by the end of the year, as it is set out run out, according to OMB?
MR MILLER: So we have made very clear at every level of this administration that Congress needs to act to fund security assistance to Ukraine, to fund economic assistance to Ukraine, to fund not just security assistance to Israel but humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, which we have been providing and we want to provide more. We are at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to our ability to provide security assistance to Ukraine. Ukraine is about to enter what we know will be a very difficult winter, when we’ve seen Russia launch attacks on critical Ukrainian infrastructure that they use to enable people to heat their homes during the winter.
So it is our position in this administration that we need to stand by our partner at this difficult time. We need to continue to support them in their fight against Russia, and we hope that the U.S. Congress will be there as well.
Go ahead, Alex.
QUESTION: Just quickly, Matt, the topic of Ukraine, can you please confirm reports that Secretary will appear on the Hill today to brief the members on aid to Ukraine?
MR MILLER: So the Secretary is on the Hill today. He met – or I think he’s – he’s either meeting right now or just concluded a meeting with members of the House of Representatives. After that, has a meeting with all senators. It’s the Secretary as well as other members of the cabinet who are up making the case for why this supplemental is so critical, not just for the future of Ukraine but for the United States interest as well.
As we have always made clear, it is a critical national security interest of the United States to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s aggression. So the Secretary’s up making that case. We will continue to make that case in the coming days. We have just a few weeks until the end of the year, and we hope that Congress will act as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: Thanks so much. Moving to Azerbaijan, if I may.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Following yesterday’s announcement of assistant secretary’s trip to Azerbaijan, he showed up on the Hill three weeks ago and he made a case that they will – knew this is not, let’s say, business as usual with Azerbaijan as long as they don’t, let’s say, solve the Karabakh conflict. The fact that he is headed to Azerbaijan, is this a departure from newly announced policy?
MR MILLER: No, not at all. We never said that we’re not going to continue to engage with Azerbaijan. That would be against our interests as the United States of America. We think it would be against the interests of peace and security in the region for us to just drop all of our diplomatic engagements with Azerbaijan. We continue to engage directly with both Azerbaijan and Armenia to make clear – for example, in the case of Azerbaijan – where we have concerns. We’ve been concerned with the recent trend of detaining journalists. We continue to urge them to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all, something that I’ve spoken to from this podium in the past. And we also continue to engage with them to urge them to seek a durable peace with Armenia, and that’s something that will continue to be the focus of our diplomatic engagements.
QUESTION: Will the secretary raise the case, ongoing crackdown against independent reporters, during his visit in Azerbaijan?
MR MILLER: I do not want to preview the comments. He’s there – I think he’s getting there tonight; he has meetings tomorrow. I should not preview private diplomatic conversations before they’ve happened. But I will say that human rights is always on the table for the United States of America when we have these sorts of diplomatic engagements.
QUESTION: Thanks so much.
MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. I wanted to ask first about Ukraine, just following up on that. Has the U.S. given any assurances to Zelenskyy that funding will continue or they can give any kind of support if the supplemental doesn’t pass?
MR MILLER: So one of the things about the Ukrainian Government is they are very sophisticated observers of the U.S. political system. Now almost two years into this war we’ve been engaging with them. They have their own engagements with Congress. I don’t think there’s any question about the Executive Branch’s support for Ukraine. We don’t think there’s any question about the Legislative Branch’s support for Ukraine. If you put funding for Ukraine in an up or down vote in front of both houses of Congress, it is our belief that it would pass.
So President Zelenskyy has engaged directly with members of the Senate and members of the House of Representatives. I think they can make their own assessments about where things stand in Congress, but I will say it is critical that Congress act. We cannot fund – we cannot continue to fund Ukraine’s security assistance without additional support from Congress. There’s just statutory limitations. We are at the end of our drawdown authority. We’ve exhausted over 97 percent of what was allocated. We only have a very small amount left and we will exhaust those packages in the coming weeks, and so we very much need Congress to act and we need them act as soon as possible.
QUESTION: And just lastly, on the vessel attacks over the weekend in the Red Sea, Jake yesterday said that they were looking at forming some kind of international task force that could help protect ships as they make their way through the Red Sea. I just wanted to know if there’s been any movement on that and which countries have been approached to help on that kind of —
MR MILLER: Well, I don’t have any new updates to announce since 24 hours ago. It’s something that we continue to engage in with our allies and partners, and I think the point that the National Security Advisor was making is that this is not – the Houthis’ attacks on international shipping is not just a concern – should not just be a concern to countries in the region. It should be a concern to every country in the world because it threatens the global economy. There are ships that come through that area that carry goods destined for the entire world, and so we will work with our allies and partners to try to develop a coordinated response to these increase in Houthi attacks.
QUESTION: Does that include Arab partners as well as Western partners?
MR MILLER: We would welcome support from anyone in this effort.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: I have two questions, please. U.S. Defense Secretary said that Israel will only win in Gaza if civilians are protected. In fact, the most who killed are civilians – children and women – so that mean Israel is losing? And when this war will end?
MR MILLER: I do not think I would draw that conclusion from what the Secretary of Defense said. The Secretary of Defense was making a similar but I think fairly pointed point – similar point to what others in the administration have made. You have heard the Secretary say that far too many civilians have been killed in Gaza. You have heard the Secretary say that – Secretary Blinken – that Israel needs to do more to minimize civilian harm and protect civilians from harm. That was the focus of our trip to Israel last week, and I think what the – I shouldn’t speak to what the Secretary of Defense says because there’s another spokesperson across the river who does that, but I think he was making the larger point that the way Israel conducts this war matters, and I will let his spokesperson elaborate on that further.
And with respect to the prediction, I just can’t make that prediction.
QUESTION: Today – or yesterday – today I talked with my cousins. He – in Gaza, he lives in Gaza. He’s not related to Hamas. He told me we are hungry, we don’t have food, no water for my children, for my grandchildren. He told me everything is targeting – human, unhuman, green. He told me you talk about future in Gaza; they will remove Gaza from the map. What are you talking about?
MR MILLER: So first of all, let me just say I’m sorry to hear that account. I know it’s a family member. That is extraordinarily difficult, and I’m sorry to hear it. I will say that what the United States is doing to address that very situation is, number one, making clear to Israel that we do not want to see this campaign conducted in the south the way it has been conducted in the north. We are four or five days into this campaign in the south; it’s just started again after the pause. It’s too early to make, I think, overall assessments about how it’s going, but certainly I know for civilians on the ground conditions are incredibly difficult. We are engaging with the Government of Israel at every level to try to increase the amount of humanitarian assistance that is getting in so people do have food and people do have water. We are working with UNRWA to try to identify sites where civilians can go to be safe from harm and working with the Government of Israel to ensure that those sites are protected and are not targeted.
There is not enough being done right now. The level of assistance that’s getting in is not sufficient. It needs to go up, and we’ve made that clear to the Government of Israel. The level of fuel that is going in is not sufficient. It needs to go up, and we have made that clear to the Government of Israel. And we will continue to engage with them on every level, precisely to try and address the very real human suffering that your family member is going through and we know so many civilians in Gaza are going through.
QUESTION: Can you address for us quickly some matter – staying on south of Gaza. The Wall Street Journal had a report on Israel sharing plans with the U.S. about possibly flooding the Hamas tunnels with sea water. There’s concern about the environmental impact that would have, as well as on the structure of buildings above the tunnels, which is, as you know, a vast network. Do you have any comment on that?
MR MILLER: I’m just not going to comment on reports of actions that the Israeli Government may or may not take. I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to do so. I will just say that in all of our conversations with them, we urge them to take into account humanitarian needs, humanitarian imperatives in making all of these types of decisions.
QUESTION: Can I follow up what you just said? You said there’s not enough being done right now in terms of humanitarian aid and fuel into Gaza. You mean that Israeli Government is not doing enough?
MR MILLER: There is not enough fuel, there is not enough food, there’s not enough water getting in. The number of trucks currently getting in, around 100 a day – I think it was 100 yesterday – is lower than it was during the pause. It needs to be higher.
QUESTION: Right. I understand that.
MR MILLER: And we are engaging with the Israeli Government to encourage them to allow more trucks to get in.
QUESTION: Okay. So the onus is on the Israeli Government, right?
MR MILLER: Correct. Correct.
QUESTION: And going back to the civilians question, Secretary Blinken was there, we were with him, and he made it very clear he doesn’t want the southern Gaza offensive to look like northern Gaza. And you’re saying it’s too early, but when do you think it won’t be too early to make an assessment? How long the U.S. is going to wait to make that assessment?
MR MILLER: I just don’t think I can speak to that with any level of specificity. I will say that we have seen them conducting the campaign in some ways in the south in a different fashion than they did in the north. I talked yesterday about how they are publishing more limited evacuation zones, where there are Hamas fighters embedded in civilian infrastructure, and they are identifying specific geographic areas inside cities rather than say: all of Khan Yunis evacuate. They’re identifying specific areas where they know there are Hamas fighters embedded, and they want to be able to take a legitimate fight to those Hamas fighters. And they are asking people, appropriately, to evacuate from those areas. That is a difference than from the north, than what happened – or it’s a difference from what happened in the north in their campaign there —
MR MILLER: — when they asked the entire city. But there’s – let me just finish. That said, the point that the Secretary made to them and the point he made public or that he said publicly is it’s not just intent that matters, it’s results. I very much get your question. I think four days into this campaign is a little too early to draw any definitive conclusions about results. But we will continue to monitor what’s happening, and we will continue to press them to do everything they can to minimize civilian harm. And when we have differences with how they’re conducting their campaign, we will make that known to them, as we have since the beginning of this conflict.
QUESTION: Right. But I mean, do you have any expectation that in the coming days they’re going to shift to different tactics? You have any anticipation that they’re going to use airstrikes less and more surgical ground offensives that you think in its entirety it’s going to look different, and there will be a smaller – like a reduction in the death toll? Because I’m trying to understand why you’re – you guys are waiting.
MR MILLER: I would say I don’t think it is appropriate for me to comment on what the military campaign might look like in terms of airstrikes versus a ground operation. It’s an ongoing conflict. Those are obviously sensitive decisions that the Israeli Government has to make. I shouldn’t talk about them from here. What we will talk to them about are how they conduct those operations, and we’ll continue to do so.
QUESTION: You said it’s too early to make a definitive decision on – but, well, what about an interim decision? I mean, surely you’ve seen enough in the last four days to come to a conclusion about whether the Israelis are following through on what they committed to you, not just on the intent but also on the result. And I’m not asking for a final grade here, and not even maybe a midterm grade. But it’s been going on for several days.
MR MILLER: So —
QUESTION: And surely you’re in a position to be able to judge whether what you think – what you’ve seen so far you think meets their commitments.
MR MILLER: So I will – let me try to divide these into two things. With respect to airstrikes, I’m not in a position to assess strikes and individual strikes that have happened over the last few days. We’ve talked about this before. It’s very tough to do that from here when you don’t know the targets that were – the Hamas militants that were the targets of any individual strike. You don’t know with any individual strike the collateral damage. It’s very tough to make those determinations from here. I will say with respect to other aspects of how they conduct the campaign, you have seen them take the steps I just outlined that are an improvement from what they did in the north.
That said, you see the reports from UNRWA and from other UN agencies that the places where civilians are going are overcrowded, they need more humanitarian assistance, they need more food and water, and in that respect we don’t think Israel is doing enough. We think they need to do more to allow humanitarian assistance in. That’s why I said we want the number of trucks to increase. A hundred a day is not enough. Seventy thousand liters of fuel going in a day is not enough for the humanitarian needs. And so we want to see improvement on both of those points.
QUESTION: Okay. So on both of those points?
MR MILLER: Humanitarian assistance – the trucks, fuel. Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, that —
MR MILLER: Trucks are inclusive of food, water, medicine. Yeah.
QUESTION: But that’s – right, but that’s one point. So – but you’re – so you’re – okay.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: But you’re able to – you’re able to make a judgment that you don’t think that they’re doing enough on that – on that side, but when you talk about the airstrikes you say you’re not ready to make a determination, and yet the entire message that the Secretary and the Vice President gave to the Israelis over the last week and over the weekend was that we do not want to see a repeat of what happened in the north in the south. And a repeat of what happened in the north would be airstrikes.
MR MILLER: It’s – so a few things. Number one, it has never been our policy that Israel should not conduct airstrikes, full —
QUESTION: I’m not saying —
MR MILLER: Yeah, I know. I know. Just —
QUESTION: I’m not saying it has been.
MR MILLER: I’m just making that clear. There are legitimate military targets, including high-value targets that they have a right to go after because those Hamas fighters have said they will continue to launch individual attacks. I’m not able to comment on specific strikes. It’s hard to assess from here all those, but —
QUESTION: I don’t think anyone has said – nobody is asking you to comment —
MR MILLER: But no – I know, but just let me – let me finish.
QUESTION: — on specific strike on target X or target Y.
MR MILLER: I can – I know, but let me finish my answer. I can talk to you about trucks and fuel because we have very clear metrics about what the people in Gaza need. We have – we know how much fuel they need to be able to power desalinization —
QUESTION: And you – and you have —
MR MILLER: — and the amount that’s going in now is not enough. We know how much water they need – it’s not enough.
QUESTION: And you have – and you have no metrics on airstrikes —
MR MILLER: I’m telling you with —
QUESTION: — or the amount of damage from airstrikes?
MR MILLER: So there are – there are two – there are two ways to look at that question. One is assessing a specific strike, and I just got into that, why we couldn’t do it there. Two is looking at the totality of a campaign and how it’s conducted, and four days into this one, I think it’s a little premature to draw any conclusions. But as I said, or as – not as I said, as the Secretary said, we’re going to be watching this very closely and we will not hesitate —
QUESTION: Well, I mean, if you’re watching it very closely —
MR MILLER: — and we —
QUESTION: — surely you have come to a conclusion about what you think in the early days, in the first four days, or you’re —
MR MILLER: And I have just – I have just outlined some of our conclusions about it. Other things we need more time to watch. But we will be very clear about what we see with the Israeli Government and where we think they need to make improvements.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Just to follow up —
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: — on this, on these safe zones or whatever you call it. I mean, you mentioned yourself UNRWA, and they’re saying that it’s actually creating even more of a problem in terms of humanitarian assistance because they’re coming into these tiny or very narrow places. So it’s actually – in a sense you made a big deal out of this, but it’s actually in a sense making things worse and you’re displacing – well, the war is displacing again all these people which have to go – so what is your comment on that?
MR MILLER: There is a – there is a – just a very difficult problem to solve here. And it all goes back to the fact that Hamas continues to hide behind civilians in civilian neighborhoods, under apartment buildings, under schools and hospitals and mosques. And so, yes, the places where – I mean, this is just the nature of the problem in that Israel has a right to conduct military campaigns to prevent October 7th from ever happening again and to try to take out the leaders who plotted October 7th and want to do it again. They’re all hiding in – they’re all hiding behind civilians.
So the choice is: don’t displace some level of people and just attack civilian sites without asking the civilians to leave – that’s obviously unacceptable – versus trying to get them to move so you can carry out what is a legitimate military campaign. What we’ve said is we don’t want to see mass displacement on the scale that happened in the north. There has to be some level of temporary displacement or you’re going to see even higher civilian deaths. And so what we want to see is that carried out in as humane a fashion as possible, and that does mean trying to get more humanitarian assistance into those sites. But it is absolutely a terrible problem that is very difficult to solve, and we are working to try to address it the best we can, but we are in the middle of a war here with Israel facing an opponent really unlike any other. I mean, if you think about other conventional wars, the army is not typically hiding all of its troops underneath civilians.
MR MILLER: Yeah, Michel.
QUESTION: Did the U.S. ask Egypt to open Rafah crossing for the Palestinian civilians who want to flee?
MR MILLER: So let me say that’s a complicated question. There are a number of Palestinian civilians who have left via Rafah. Those who are wounded have been have been evacuated, so they can seek medical assistance outside of Gaza.
But the thing that we have heard from Palestinian leaders and from others in the region is that they don’t want to see the Palestinian people leave their land. They don’t want to see the Palestinian people displaced. There is obviously a well-known history in this regard. And the policy of the United States is that the Palestinian people should not be displaced, so that’s why we’re trying to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza.
QUESTION: And second, does the administration still believe or think that Iran doesn’t want to expand the war in the Middle East?
MR MILLER: So you have not heard me make that assessment from here. What we have said is we are sending every signal we can to Iran that they should not want this conflict to be expanded. We have made very clear it is not in anyone’s interest in the region for this conflict to be expanded. The United States certainly doesn’t want it to be expanded. But at the same time, we will take the measures that are necessary to protect our personnel in the region and our interests in the region.
QUESTION: Matthew, good afternoon. The American hostages held by Hamas – does the U.S. believe that they’re all alive?
MR MILLER: Again, I’m just not able to make any – I’m not going to make any assessments about what we know or don’t know about the hostages.
QUESTION: If there’s no ceasefire, can they still be rescued?
MR MILLER: Again, we are working every day to try and return hostages. In the last pause, you saw over a hundred hostages released, including two American citizens. We had previously secured the release of two other American citizens over a month ago. And we will continue – whether there is a pause or not, we will continue to work to try and secure the release of all those American citizens.
QUESTION: And one more on the Philippines, if I may take it to the —
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. So the other day, a couple days ago, terrorists targeted a Catholic mass bombing it, killing and wounding dozens of worshippers there. The Islamic State claimed responsibility. I know the State Department forcefully condemned the attack in a statement. But I’d just like to know: What’s the State Department’s message directly to the terrorists who blew up that mass?
MR MILLER: Well, we strongly condemn that attack. We condemn any terrorist attack. We condemn any attacks at all targeting religious organizations, targeting churches, or whether it be mosques or schools. The United States always takes that position and we do so here.
MR MILLER: We’ll do one more and then we’ll wrap up for today. Go ahead.
QUESTION: It’s been reported that member of Congress reviewed a plan to facilitate the displacement of Gazans so to settle in several Mideastern country like Türkiye, Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan. Have you heard about this report, and what’s your comment?
MR MILLER: I haven’t. There are 535 members of Congress. I don’t speak for any of them. I will make clear what the position of the United States is, which the Secretary has made clear, which is that we opposed any forced displacement of the Palestinian people.
And with that, we’ll wrap for today. Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:16 p.m.) # # #
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