The U.S. government is making intense efforts to persuade Israel and Hamas to resume negotiations so they can once again suspend hostilities and exchange more prisoners for hostages, a White House spokesperson said Sunday.
“We’re still working very hard, hour by hour, to see if we can bring the parties back to the table and see if we can make something happen,” John F. Kirby, White House National Security Strategic Communications Coordinator . Council, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We would like to see this happen today. But honestly, I just don’t know.
During his appearances on several Sunday talk shows, Mr. Kirby emphasized that Hamas was responsible for the failure of the negotiations, saying that it had not respected the terms of its original agreement to begin handing over detained captives. in Gaza.
He said Hamas had failed to produce a list of women and children who could be released in addition to the 105 hostages released during the initial pause in fighting. Among those still detained are eight or nine Americans. Osama Hamdan, Hamas’ representative in Lebanon, said Sunday that hostage negotiations would not resume until the Israeli attack ceases.
Israel has since resumed attacks on Hamas, and Mr. Kirby urged it to avoid civilian casualties, while crediting his forces for efforts to do so. He said Israeli authorities were open to American advice on how to make their attack more precise.
“We think they’ve been receptive to our messaging here in terms of trying to minimize civilian casualties,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” He pointed out that Israel had published a map showing civilians what it considered safe zones.
“There aren’t many modern armies that would do that, I mean, telegraph their shots that way,” he said. “So they make an effort.”
President Biden and his administration have sought to take a cautious line nearly two months after the Oct. 7 terrorist attack in which Hamas killed about 1,200 people in Israel and took about 240 others hostage. While supporting Israel’s right to defend itself, the administration also sought to prevent Israel from going too far in its response.
That drew criticism from both the left and the right on Sunday, with some Republicans complaining that Mr. Biden’s team was trying to hold back Israel, while some liberal Democrats complained that it was not doing so enough.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, pointed the finger at Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III. In a speech on Saturday, Mr. Austin warned that Israel should protect civilians in Gaza and prevent violence against Palestinians by Jewish settlers in the West Bank, because otherwise “you are replacing a tactical victory with a strategic defeat.”
Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Mr. Graham lambasted Mr. Austin, a retired four-star general who fought in Iraq. “He’s so naive; I mean, I just lost all faith in the guy,” Mr. Graham said.
“If we had been attacked like this, which was the case on September 11, if someone had asked us within two months for a ceasefire against Al-Qaeda, we would have driven them out of town laughing, we would have run him out of town,” Mr. Graham added. “Secretary Austin is telling Israel things that are impossible to do.”
Mr. Graham said his solution to the hostage standoff would be to threaten Iran, the sponsor of Hamas. “I would go to Iran and say, look, you have to tell Hamas to let these hostages go,” he said. “If you don’t do it, you’re going to start paying a higher price. »
On the other side of the ideological spectrum, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington, said on the same show that the Biden administration has a responsibility to stop Israel from killing so many civilians.
“The United States cannot support this type of indiscriminate bombing – that is my firm belief,” she said. “We should impose conditions on military aid the same way we do for all other countries. »
While the White House blamed Hamas for the failure of the hostage talks, Ms. Jayapal blamed Israel.
“Qatar said Hamas is still at the table,” she said, referring to the Persian Gulf emirate that served as an intermediary in the talks. “Israel should always be at the table. In fact, some of the Israeli hostages say that Israel should still be at the table, because this is a complex negotiation and will only take place if both sides are willing to reach some kind of agreement. All right.”
Hwaida Saad reports contributed.