US State Dept Presser

State Dept Presser – Nov 9, 2023

21 Min
State Dept Presser – Nov 9, 2023

US State Dept Principal Dy spokesperson Vedant Patel held a press conference on Nov 9, 2023.The Q-A on India and B’desh is tweaked to appear upfront.


MR PATEL:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I don’t have anything off the top….

MR PATEL:  Goyal, go ahead.  

QUESTION:  Thank you, sir.  Two questions, please.

MR PATEL:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  One, as far as the Secretary’s visit to India is concerned, if there were issues discussed like these terrorist organizations who – they keep attacking, like, India – 26/11 or 9/11 in U.S., and now 7/10 in Israel, among other countries – and they keep changing their names.  You can ban them, sanction them, anything you can do.  So where do we go from here future?  Then they will hold innocent hostages and then they want to trade them in.

MR PATEL:  Secretary Blinken is heading to New Delhi as part of the 2+2 Security Dialogue with Secretary Austin, and so I have no doubt deepening our security cooperation will be a topic that is discussed by Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin, and their counterparts in the ministry of external affairs and ministry of defense.  I will let that trip take out – play out before we share further.  But I have no doubt that cooperation, especially in the counterterrorism space, is something that will come up in areas where we can potentially deepen our partnership.

QUESTION:  In the region?  Can I ask about —

MR PATEL:  Sure, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much, about Southeast Asia. … before I ask you, let me tell you that with the support of U.S.A., Bangladesh Government took a zero-tolerance policy in combating terrorism and radicalism, media reporting the achievement positively contributes to the counterterrorism effort and national interest of U.S.A.  How do you evaluate the achievement of the current government about this matter?

MR PATEL:  So I will speak about this in broad terms that you’ve heard me say before, that last year we celebrated 50 years of diplomatic relations with Bangladesh, and of course that this is a country that we’re looking to continue to deepen our relationships and partnerships with as there continue to be a number of areas, including trade, cooperation in the climate space, cooperation in the security space, and otherwise where that potential exists.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.  I have a one-line question:  Do you support the unelected caretaker government in Bangladesh as opposition demanding before the general election?  Thank you.

MR PATEL:  I’m pretty sure I answered this question yesterday or the day before that or the day before that.

QUESTION:  We are getting answer every time that you – everybody wants in Bangladesh free and fair election.

MR PATEL:  And that continues —

QUESTION:  But the question is if you support unelected caretaker government or not, yes or no.

MR PATEL:  As you’ve heard us say, we do not support a particular government or political party or candidate in any country, and that in areas where there are elections ongoing, we – our goal and intent is for these elections to take place in a free and fair way that respects the will of the people of that country.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you, sir.  Secretary Blinken is in India, and India-Canada tensions are escalating, especially after the expulsion of more than 40 Canadian diplomats.  Is the U.S. still trying to mediate or asking India to cooperate with the Canadian investigation of the murder of Khalistan leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar?

MR PATEL:  This is something that we’re of course continuing to engage on with our partners in India as well as our partners in Canada as well.  

QUESTION:  Sir, one more question, if you allow me.  So don’t you think by ignoring Israeli brutalities in Gaza, the United States is sending a wrong message to the powerful militaries and powerful countries around the world that they can do anything by killing thousands of innocent people, including children, on the name of self-defense?  If tomorrow any other powerful country or powerful military do the same thing, what will be your position there?  

MR PATEL:  From podiums across this government, you have not seen us parse our words about the moral and strategic imperative to minimize and take steps to ensure that civilian casualties aren’t taking place over the course of this conflict.  And that’s something that we’re going to continue to raise directly with our Israeli partners.  You’ve seen us do so.  We’ve laid out steps that could potentially be taken to minimize this.  We welcome the news today on the humanitarian pause, and we’ll continue to work at this.  

QUESTION:  Yeah, we saw the announcement earlier that the Israelis have agreed to these four-hour pauses. I’m wondering if there’s a few more details you can give.  Previously, the Israelis had said that they wouldn’t agree to humanitarian pauses without release of hostages.  So is there some kind of agreement from the Hamas side that has facilitated this?

MR PATEL:  The Israelis can obviously provide you with additional details, but I wanted to note that this new development has been, I think, a direct result of some of the engagements, discussions, and diplomacy that the President, Secretary Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan have all been deeply engaged on.  This has been something that has been important to us as well, is assessing avenues in which humanitarian pauses could be initiated to permit civilians to depart – specifically depart areas where there are active hostilities, increase the flow of aid, as well as enable conditions for the release of hostages, which is something that we hope will continue to take place and happen as well.  And that’s something we’re going to continue to keep an eye out.  So again, this is not a black and white situation.  It’s something that we’re going to continue to work on with our partners and Israel about these kinds of efforts.  

And just to reiterate some of the details that were announced, there will be two humanitarian corridors allowing people to flee the areas of hostilities in the northern part of Gaza.  The first such corridor open between four and five hours every day for the past few days has already enabled many thousands of people to reach safer areas.  The second route along the coastal road will enable many more thousands to reach safer areas in the south.  And of course, we are continuing to work closely with our Israeli partners to address and remain vigilant about efforts from Hamas to discourage and prevent civilians from fleeing this area.

And simultaneously, as we talk about this movement of civilians, it’s also critical that humanitarian supplies and assistance are expanded in the areas where people are moving, in the case specifically of southern Gaza.  Over the course of yesterday, we saw 106 trucks of humanitarian aid flow into Gaza through the Rafah Crossing.  Rafah Crossing remains open today for the inflow of humanitarian aid as well as the safe departure of foreign nationals, so we’ll continue to work towards this and make sure that there is apt flow each day.

QUESTION:  So the Rafah Crossing is open in both directions now?

MR PATEL:  That is our understanding. .

QUESTION:  And just on the humanitarian pauses, so one of the images that people have been seeing a lot is a lot of people moving from the north of Gaza to the south.  What’s the U.S. position on how these people – how – will these people have some kind of right of return to their – a lot of them are already displaced people from many years anyway, but is there some way that you – in your talks with the Israelis that you’re able to say anyone who leaves northern Gaza, Gaza City now during this operation will have the right to return to where they were living before? `

MR PATEL:  So you’ve heard me say this before that, of course, a forced relocation of Palestinian civilians from Gaza is not something that we support.  It’s not a policy that we are pursuing.  And additionally, Palestinian civilians who may call Gaza home we believe should have the ability to return if they had needed to depart for whatever reason over the course of this conflict.

QUESTION:  On the ceasefire, four hours – do you believe that the four hours are sufficient to get the kind of aid that you want to get through? 

MR PATEL:  Said, we believe that this is an important step in the right direction.  We believe that is a byproduct of the U.S. Government and this administration’s efforts in the region diplomatically, what the President and Secretary Blinken and others have been doing around the clock.  Of course, we are going to continue to want to see more.  We have not parsed our words about the dire humanitarian circumstances in Gaza, and it’s something that we’re going to continue to engage on with the Israelis on what other avenues are available for ensuring access to humanitarian aid and humanitarian pauses that will allow for the safe movement of civilians.  This is a welcome step in the right direction, and we, of course, are going to continue to work with our Israeli partners on what other avenues may be possible. 

QUESTION:  And my last issue is Israel often – and you guys from this podium and other podiums often – accuse that Hamas is using people as human shields and so on.  They were saying that in Shifa Hospital there was a photograph or surveillance of a manhole, and it turned out to be just for water.  Let me ask you something – do you have a definition to what is a human shield? 

MR PATEL:  Said, it is important here when we talk about this we don’t – this isn’t – and you’ve heard me say this before this week – this is not hyperbole; it is fact.  Hamas is a designated terrorist organization.  It’s been a designated terrorist organization since 1997 and has been so over the course of multiple administrations of varying political parties.  And we know that there is a vast network of Hamas integrating itself through civilian infrastructure, co-locating itself with key civilian infrastructure, using Palestinian civilians as human shields by doing so, by co-locating itself in such ways. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  I just want to remind you that this term was actually invented by Mahatma Gandhi when he was fighting the British, but I’m not going to go into the history and so on.  But also, I want to remind you that in fact in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it was the Israelis who introduced the term and the activity.  They would bring in the kids, tie them to their Jeeps and so on – there are plenty of pictures that I can send you and share with everybody here —to disallow or to prevent the other kids from throwing stones at them.  

MR PATEL:  Let’s not lose sight of the fact – let’s not lose sight of the fact  that Hamas has brought this war to Gaza, and they are a terrorist organization that is hijacking the political future of the Palestinian people. 

QUESTION:  You know, Vedant – just to my last point, the Israeli defense ministry is really located in a densely populated area.  So, if the situation was reversed and somebody somehow struck a rocket onto that thing and civilians were killed, would you call that a human shield?  Would you call that the Israeli defense ministry is practicing human shields? 

MR PATEL:  Said, in any circumstance – in any circumstance, in countries around the world, we have been incredibly clear about the moral imperative to ensure that steps are taken so that civilian causalities and impacts on civilians are minimized.

 Nadia, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Following up on this four-hour humanitarian pause, the White House said that it’s going to start today.  So it’s like around 8:30, I think, in the evening now in Gaza, so do you still believe that it’s going to start today, implemented today? 

MR PATEL:  I have no different update.  That’s our understanding. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  Is Gaza City included in this four-hour pause as well?   

MR PATEL:  I will let our Israeli partners speak to the specific operations about this, Nadia.  I’m not going to get into the operational details from up here. 

QUESTION:  And you said there’s going to be two corridors for people to go from north to south.  So, when they leave via the sea or the other route, do you think – where are they supposed to go?  Because if we’re saying there is no water, no electricity, no – so they’re going to be in the open air?  I’m just – like practical question to you. 

MR PATEL:  I totally understand your question, and again, I will leave it to our Israeli partners to speak to the specifics about this. 

QUESTION:  Okay, and one final thing about the hostages, do you think that Islamic Jihad, who seems to be holding other hostages – not just Hamas – is this other route that the U.S. is following with mediation, maybe perhaps in Lebanon or elsewhere?  Are other channels, not just through Egypt and Qatar? 

MR PATEL:  I’m just not going to get into the ongoing and sensitive efforts we have actively been working to release all the hostages in Gaza, including those Americans.  And we’ve been clear that the U.S. supports humanitarian pauses to get hostages out.  But I’m not going to get into the specifics of any of that ongoing work.  

Nick, go ahead.  You’ve patiently had your hand up. 

QUESTION:  There are also negotiations for a three-day humanitarian pause for the release of about a dozen hostages, according to sources who are involved in those negotiations.  Is that in any way connected to these four-hour pauses that were announced today?  If so, how?  And if not, can you shed some light on the negotiation? 

MR PATEL:  Our hope is that conditions can continue to be created that would eventually get us to a place where some of these hostages can be released.  The announcement that was today is about ensuring the flow of humanitarian aid as well as allowing the ability for civilians to move safely and depart areas where there might be hostilities taking place.  But, again, we’ve not – we’ll continue to keep our eye on the ball when it comes to release of these hostages, and it’s something that we’ll continue to engage on with our Israeli partners.  And should the news from today or other humanitarian pauses that potentially could be forthcoming allow for the release of hostages, that, of course, would be a step in the right direction also.  

Camila, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  We’re reported that CIA Director Bill Burns is in Doha along with the head of Israel’s Mossad.  Incidentally, they were there before this – the four-hour humanitarian pauses was announced.  We’ve been told that he’s there to – for various discussions but also to facilitate hostage negotiations.  Just wondering if you could clarify on who’s leading the charge on hostage negotiations on the U.S. side.  And then I have one about fuel after that.  

MR PATEL:  So first and foremost, I’d defer to the Central Intelligence Agency to speak to the director’s travels.  What I will say is that across the interagency, this continues to be a priority for our government.  It’s what I mentioned yesterday why Deputy Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Steve Gillen remains in Israel, and this is something this department and other pieces of the U.S. Government continue to engage on extensively.  

QUESTION:  And just on fuel, Ambassador Satterfield briefed reporters a little earlier today.  He says that there’s now fuel available to UN implementers in Gaza and that he’s hoping that more fuel will be able to get in for other aid workers.  That effort to get more fuel in, is that hope that that goes alongside the four-hour pauses that have just been announced or is that a separate effort from the pauses that have just been announced?  

MR PATEL:  So the mechanical and technical way in which we would ensure the access to fuel, I’m just not going to comment on that given sort of the technical and operational specifications.  What I will just say is that we know very clearly that there is a dire need for fuel in Gaza.  It is key to a number of lines of efforts – whether at the desalination of water, clean water treatment, other wastewater efforts, the provision of medical care – and that is exactly why Special Envoy Satterfield has been engaged on this to do everything we can in close coordination with Egyptian authorities, Israeli authorities, donors, humanitarian aid agencies to turn that – to do whatever we can to increase that.  

Michel, go ahead.  

QUESTION:  Vedant, first, any U.S. official will participate in the Arab and Islamic summits that will be held in Saudi Arabia?  And what do you expect from these summits?  

MR PATEL:  Michel, those summits are being held  at least to our understanding as part of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic States.  The United States is not an observer or a member of either of those entities, so I don’t expect any participation from the United States of America, but we’ll be, of course, paying close attention.  And I’m not going to get ahead of that process.  

QUESTION:  And one more – more attacks today on U.S. military bases in Iraq after the U.S. reaction yesterday in Syria.  Any comment?  

MR PATEL:  So since you asked, Michel, a U.S. fighter aircraft conducted a proportionate precision self-defense airstrike in eastern Syria against one facility used by Iran’s IRGC and affiliated groups.  The IRGC and affiliated groups recently directed attacks on U.S. and coalition bases in Iraq and Syria.  And as I have said from this podium over the course of this week, we will continue to take decisive military action to defend U.S. personnel in the region.  

Yeah, go ahead.  

QUESTION:  Thank you, Vedant.  Especially after the announcement of the four-day – four-hour humanitarian pause in northern Gaza today, which will allow people to move to the south, there are some concerns about the integrity of Gaza.  And Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also today said that any move by Israel to divide Gaza into two sections is unacceptable.  I was wondering, how can you address those concerns, and do you share similar concerns about the territorial integrity of Gaza?

MR PATEL:  Rabia, I assume you saw the Secretary’s comments in Tokyo yesterday morning, and I think it was a very clear laydown of what we see as steps that can be taken to ensure that this crisis never happens again.  And that is setting conditions for durable peace and security.  And of course, part of that is considering and thinking about the future of Gaza.  And I just was very clear that first no forcible displacement of Palestinians from Gaza continues to be something that we feel very strongly about.  We also feel strongly that Gaza cannot be a platform for terrorism or other violent attacks.  We also feel that no reoccupation of Gaza after the conflict ends is something that can happen either, as well as no attempt to blockade or besiege Gaza.  We think that these are principles that will help set the conditions for a durable peace and security for the region.

QUESTION:  One more, please.

MR PATEL:  Sure.

QUESTION:  I wanted to ask if you have any comments on Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz remarks today in which, in a Tweet, he said journalists who covered the October 7 attack and did not intervene, quote/unquote, “are no different than terrorists and should be treated as such.”  Do you have any reactions on that?

MR PATEL:  I have not seen those comments, so I don’t have any immediate reaction to offer you for that.

QUESTION:  We were told by the White House this morning that the first corridor has been in use, right?  I mean, the – what’s new here?  Is it just about the time period that is new, or – because it has been used for multiple days now.

MR PATEL:  There was this announcement of this additional corridor as well as some of the specific updates that we’re sharing – which, again, our Israeli partners can talk to you in more detail about.

QUESTION:   Today the announcement of humanitarian pauses is interpreted like a breakthrough.  I mean, what’s – if you can walk us through the difference between what’s happening now, because we are seeing humanitarian aid entering to Gaza.  Some civilians are able to depart, but they are not safe all the time.  So, is it a breakthrough, I mean, and what’s the difference between what you announced today and what we are looking or waiting for in a potential deal on hostages – three days of humanitarian pauses?

MR PATEL:  We think that this is a result of our diplomacy and our engagement in the region, and this is something that the Secretary of State, President Biden, Jake Sullivan, others have been very direct about with their counterparts in the Israeli Government about the need for pauses and efforts like this.  Yes, there has been humanitarian aid flowing into Gaza.  Yes, there has been the ability for Palestinian civilians and foreign nationals to be able to not just move within Gaza but also those who have an intended wish to do so to depart Gaza.  What this is about is our Israeli partners sharing with some more specificity about efforts that had already been underway, but also some additional efforts that they are pursuing to ensure that these things can happen.  And I will let them speak to those details in more specificity.  

QUESTION:  One more question, if I may.

MR PATEL:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  You’ve been saying that a ceasefire is only beneficial for Hamas.  Do you assess that the current situation is beneficial for Israel militarily and strategically speaking? 

MR PATEL:  I’m not – just I’m not going to opine or comment on the specifics of the military operation.  What this is about is ensuring that Hamas is never able to repeat the attacks of October 7th again, which is what a unilateral ceasefire would allow them to do – allow them to regroup, restrengthen themselves, position themselves to carry out its stated intent of continuing to attack violently against the Israeli people. 

QUESTION:  During a press conference in Seoul, Secretary Blinken said that the United States is seeing and witnessing Russia providing technology and support to North Korea for its military programs.  So I’m wondering, can you give us more clarity on what support and what technology is being provided to North Korea?

And I have another question.  It’s —

MR PATEL:  Sure.


MR PATEL:  Oh, no, why don’t you ask your second question.

QUESTION:  Second question is:  When it comes to North Korea, the policy focus has always been like deterrence and sanctions enforcement, but the U.S. obviously has stressed its intent to re-engage with North Korea.  But I’m wondering if there are any behind-the-scenes efforts underway to kickstart direct engagement with North Korea at this point.

MR PATEL:  So this is of course something that our Special Representative Sung Kim is deeply engaged on, and you’re right, we have been clear-eyed that our intent and goal for the Korean Peninsula is complete denuclearization, and we have been up front with Pyongyang about our willingness to engage in diplomacy without preconditions.  And that continues to be the case.

Specifically, as it relates to the Secretary’s comments, I don’t have any additional specifics to provide, but we have seen a track record of countries like Russia continue to carry the DPRK’s water, especially in forums like the United Nations Security Council.  And our belief is that any country that claims to have relationships with the DPRK or influence over the DPRK has a responsibility to make clear to them that their actions continue to be destabilizing, that they continue to violate a number of sanctions, that their activities continue to be in violation of a number of UN Security Council resolutions also.

QUESTION:  There’s a growing concern in Ukraine, today also echoed by President Zelenskyy, that the war in the Middle East between Israel and Gaza has distracted attention from Russia’s brutal actions in Ukraine.  Do you share those concerns?

MR PATEL:  Absolutely not.  We continue to be able to keep focused on the varying challenges that exist around the planet.  That of course also includes Russia’s ongoing assault on Ukraine.  It was just a number of weeks ago, Alex – I think even last week or the week before – where we announced yet another tranche of security assistance for our Ukrainian partners, and this is something that we’ll continue to be focused on.  In President Biden’s Oval Office address, he talked about the importance of not just, of course, ensuring that Israel has what it needs to defend its security, but also that our Ukrainian partners continue the support that they have been getting so that they can continue to defend themselves against the infringement on their territorial integrity and sovereignty.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  And second topic – final one, promise.

MR PATEL:  Sure.

QUESTION:  The President yesterday proclaimed November 9 as International – World Freedom Day, and he pledged that his administration will support human rights everywhere around the world.  I’m just curious, how – how does – how does it going to look – how is it going to look like on your end at the State Department?  Are you guys going to beef up your toolkit when it comes to human rights and — 

MR PATEL:  Who said that?  Sorry.

QUESTION:  The President yesterday announced November 9 as World Freedom Day, and he said these — 

MR PATEL:  Well, Alex, one of the first things that Secretary Blinken, President Biden, Vice President Harris made clear at the beginning of this administration was the role that human rights is going to continue to play and the forefront at which we put it when it comes to our foreign policy.  And that will continue to be the case.  Around the world, when we have seen infringements on human rights, we have been clear about that.  From this very briefing room, Secretary Blinken regularly comes down to talk about the department’s annual Human Rights Report and the conditions of human rights in varying countries and the steps the United States can take to address those.  So it’s something that we’ll continue to be focused on.

Nadia, go ahead.

QUESTION:  So the President apparently just told reporters now that he was asking for a longer humanitarian pause in Gaza.  So do you think that with $14 billion that you give them plus the 4 billion plus all the leverage and the weapons, you cannot – the President cannot get what he wants from the Israelis, cannot even extend it beyond three days?

MR PATEL:  Nadia, the announcement that was made public today is something that this administration, including the President, including the Secretary – it’s something that they wanted to, of course, see happen.  

But as I said when speaking to Nick and Simon, this is not a moment in time, black and white, this happened and therefore another step can’t be taken.  We will continue to work directly with our Israeli partners, as we have, about what other options are available to ensure the flow of humanitarian aid, to ensure that civilians are able to be kept out of harm’s way.  That’s something that we’re going to continue to work towards.

QUESTION:  Do you feel frustrated that you don’t get more than, like, four hours, three hours? 

MR PATEL:  Today – today’s announcement —

QUESTION:  Do you want more, since the President said he wants more?  

MR PATEL:  Today’s announcement was a welcome step and we are – we have never taken our foot off the gas and we’ll continue to work directly with partners in the region about the seriousness we place on the flow of humanitarian aid.

Michail, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you very much, Vedant.  You said many times the last two days that you are against occupation of Gaza by the Israelis.  Before – but everybody forgot it, I think.  You said that you are against the occupation of Ukraine by the Russians.  And in my opinion, you are very right to say that.  But can we say that you are also against all the occupations in the world?  For example, of the occupation of Cyprus by your allies, the Turks?

MR PATEL:  Michail, each circumstance is different, and it would be inappropriate for me to offer a broad-brushed comment like that on every case across the world.

QUESTION:  And another question, please.

MR PATEL:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Do you have any good news, maybe, to share with us about Sweden joining NATO, for example, or can you tell us if Hungary has removed the obstacles, if Türkiye removes the obstacles?  Any news?

MR PATEL:  This is something that our diplomats in Ankara and Hungary are continuing to work around the clock.  The Secretary raised this with Foreign Minister Fidan on his travels.  Of course, this is something – we have not held back the importance that we have placed on seeing that Sweden ascend to NATO as swiftly as possible.  We have long felt that the conditions laid out under the trilateral memorandum of understanding under the Madrid Summit have been met and that Sweden is ready to be a NATO ally.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Two questions about Russia and Latin America.  

MR PATEL:  Sure.  

QUESTION:  Two days ago, the State Department alerted about a disinformation campaign happening in different media markets in Latin America, with nefarious purposes allegedly by Russia.  Can you detail the specific media markets that you are worried about and the nature of these campaign?  

MR PATEL:  I’m happy to check with the Global Engagement Center about specifics that we can share.  We can follow up with you on that.  

QUESTION:  I have some questions about the upcoming APEC Summit.   I know that you guys don’t want to get ahead of the President and the Secretary’s schedule, but I’m wondering if you can share some details about what might be the top topics or issues that can come up during the summit, especially with regard to the meeting between presidents – President Biden and the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping?  

MR PATEL:  Well, you’re right, I’m absolutely not going to get ahead of the President’s schedule or the Secretary’s own schedule as well.  But let me just say that we are thrilled to be serving as APEC’s host this year, and the Leaders’ Week is going to mark the culmination of our efforts as it relates to APEC.  And we have been focused on showcasing and highlighting our economic leadership as well as our commitment to multilateral engagement in the Asia-Pacific and the world broadly, and we believe that APEC has an opportunity to highlight the direct benefits of the international economic engagement and some of the things that the United States has been leading on.  So I would say tune in next week, and we’ll have more to share over the course of the summit.

QUESTION:  And secondly, so the – reportedly there – the President Xi and President Biden will – the meeting between them will result in an announcement to resume military-to-military communication between the two countries.  Is that the case?  Can you confirm it?

MR PATEL:  Again, I think I just said I’m not going to speak to the President or the Secretary’s schedule.  I will leave it to the White House to announce any plans for the President. 

QUESTION:   Back to Palestine-Israel, the UN high commissioner for human rights yesterday said that the – quote/unquote, “The atrocities perpetrated by Palestinian armed groups on October 7th were heinous, they were war crimes[.]” He also said the collective punishment by Israel of Palestinian civilians is also a war crime and that the unlawful forcible evacuation of civilians is as well.  Does the U.S. agree with the UN assessment?  (Inaudible.)

MR PATEL:  I spoke about this earlier this week in the – when it relates to questions about any of these kinds of legal determinations.  We have a rigorous process in place for evaluating these kinds of things and have not made that assessment in this case.  But this is a situation we’re going to continue to pay attention to and remain in close partnership with Israel.  

QUESTION:  So it’s an ongoing evaluation as things develop day by day (inaudible)?

MR PATEL:  I spoke to this earlier in the week.  Again, this – we have a rigorous process in place, and it’s not an assessment that we have made thus far.

QUESTION:  And a second, just quickly.  Do you believe – I mean, this is the UN saying it, which is seen as a objective side by lots of folks, including this administration.  Do you believe that the U.S. reputation specifically among traditional Arab partners and allies has taken a hit because of what the UN is saying are war crimes?  And you said this earlier, that you guys uphold human rights and preach about human rights across the world, and many folks are saying, including the UN, that there are human rights violations being committed by the Israelis.  

MR PATEL:  Let me just say that the Secretary, as part of his travels, twice in the past month, has engaged deeply with our partners in the Arab world about steps that can be taken to address the current ongoing situation in Gaza, first and foremost steps that we can all collectively take to further hold Hamas accountable for those terrorist attacks on October 7th, steps that we all can collectively take to ensure the flow of humanitarian aid.  And you’ve seen partner countries take actions and steps of their own when it comes to the provision of humanitarian aid.  And we, of course, welcome that, and that’s something we’re going to continue to work on as well.  

MR PATEL:  All right.  Thanks, everybody.  

(The briefing was concluded at 2:09 p.m.)