House Democrats to Urge Blinken: Provide More Humanitarian Relief for Palestinians in Gaza

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the US Embassy in Reykjavik, Iceland on Tuesday.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the US Embassy in Reykjavik, Iceland on Tuesday.Credit: Saul Loeb / AFP

WASHINGTON - House Democrats are circulating a letter urging the Biden administration to provide additional humanitarian relief for Palestinians in Gaza and work to secure a cease-fire in the current round of violence between Israel and the Palestinians, Haaretz has learned.

The letter, spearheaded by Reps. Debbie Dingell and Alan Lowenthal and obtained by Haaretz, calls on U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to work to secure a cease-fire, or at the very least, a ‘humanitarian pause’ – an end to fighting to allow for emergency relief. Lawmakers have until Thursday to sign onto the letter.

"We are concerned about the lack of respect for international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians in the conflict; we condemn Hamas’s rocket attacks and have grave concerns regarding the impact of Israel’s airstrikes in a densely populated area," they write. "Any civilian loss of life is a tragedy, and we are mindful of the unique challenges presented by the situation in Gaza, which will require urgent action to prevent an escalating disaster."

They urge Blinken to push Israel to open the Erez and Kerem Shalom border crossings "so that critical humanitarian personnel, including a trauma coordinators and security advisors, can enter and emergency relief items can be brought in to address the growing needs of the civilian population," also noting that the United Nations needs to evacuate non-essential international staff.

Further, Dingell and Lowenthal call on the administration to fully and robustly fund the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). "UNRWA is by far the largest humanitarian actor in Gaza. While the administration has provided UNRWA with $150 million to date, this falls far short of historic funding levels," they write. "The administration must fund UNRWA at not less than 2017 levels ($360 million) as well as robustly support its forthcoming emergency appeal, following all applicable U.S. laws and vetting standards for recipients and implementing organizations."

"With nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, it is civilians who are bearing the brunt of this conflict. Over 60 children have been killed and more than 42,000 civilians have sought protection inside of UNRWA’s schools, hoping all parties to the conflict will continue to respect the neutrality of the UN’s installations. For Gaza’s children who have lived their entire lives under military blockade, they are now also experiencing the terror of living through yet another violent conflict," the lawmakers write.

The letter comes amid growing pressure on the administration to forcefully advocate for a cease-fire. Americans for Peace Now is supporting the letter. President and CEO Hadar Susskind said "This violence needs to stop. We need a ceasefire. We need to address the root causes that led to this outbreak of rockets and bombs falling in both Israel and Gaza. We need to move past decades of conflict and occupation and towards peace. And we also need to address the immediate humanitarian crisis in Gaza."

As of Tuesday, at least 213 Palestinians have been killed and 1,442 have been wounded since the beginning of Operation Guardians of the Walls, according to health authorities in the Gaza Strip.

J Street is lending its support to the letter, as well. “This letter is one of several important recent initiatives showing that Members of Congress feel a deep sense of urgency around the need for a ceasefire and for more balanced, vocal and effective American leadership to defend the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians,” J Street Vice President of Communications Logan Bayroff said.

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