Background Press Call on the Humanitarian Assistance Airdrop into Gaza

Published: Sat Mar 02 2024

NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL Via Teleconference 11:42 A.M. EST MODERATOR: Everyone, good morning. Thanks so much for joining today’s call on the humanitarian assistance airdrop into Gaza today. As a reminder, the contents of today's call are on background, attributable to senior administration officials. This call is embargoed until the conclusion of the call. On the line today, for your awareness, not for your reporting, we have [senior administration official], [senior administration official], and [senior administration official]. We'll have a few words at the top, and then we'll turn it over to Q&A. With that, I'll turn it over to our speakers to kick us off. SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you, Eduardo. And, you know, we really want to start here, at the top, by expressing our condolences from everyone at the White House to the families of those who were killed and those who were injured in the tragic incident that took place in northern Gaza this week. And this tragic incident underscores the importance of expanding and sustaining the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza in response to the dire humanitarian situation. But this is something that we have been working on collectively, at the highest levels of the U.S. government, since well before this incident occurred. Really, since the beginning of the conflict, the United States has been leading efforts to get lifesaving humanitarian aid into Gaza to alleviate the suffering of innocent Palestinians who have nothing to do with Hamas. For example, President Biden pushed relentlessly and made significant progress in terms of humanitarian access in Gaza, engaging personally to get an agreement from the leaders of Israel and Egypt to cooperate on the provision of humanitarian assistance to civilians into Gaza. Really, before the President engaged in this area, there was no food, no water, and no medicine getting into Gaza. And it was the President’s visit to Israel, just after the tragic attack of October 7th, that secured the opening of the Rafah crossing into Egypt. In December, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan traveled to Israel and secured the opening of the Kerem Shalom crossing, which has allowed additional aid to enter Gaza from southern Israel. Soon after the incident of October 7th, the President appointed Ambassador David Satterfield our Special Envoy for Middle East Humanitarian Issues, who has been on the ground sorting through the various procedures and requirements to get additional assistance through these border crossings and, really, to expand those to the greatest extent possible. We, as the United States, have been the largest provider of aid to the Gaza response. And thus far, we’ve provided $180 million since October 7th. And this has been responding to the humanitarian crisis and the needs of the Palestinian people, which has really been priority for us since day one, since the conflict began. But the truth is - and you heard the President talk about this yesterday - that the aid flowing into Gaza is nowhere near enough and nowhere near fast enough. And we continue to work to increase the amount of aid flowing through existing border crossings at Rafah and Kerem Shalom and to press the government of Israel to open additional crossings and routes into Gaza. Yesterday, President Biden announced that we would carry out airdrops of aid into Gaza, and I’ll talk a little bit more about that in a moment. We have also been working on additional pathways to get assistance into Gaza. We have been in touch with officials in Israel, in Cyprus, working with the U.N., working with potential commercial entities, to see if we can set up a maritime route as well that would deliver assistance directly into Gaza by sea. But back to the airdrops: Today, as the Central Command just put out, the Department of Defense and the Royal Jordanian Air Force conducted a combined humanitarian assistance airdrop into Gaza between 3:00 and 5:00 p.m. And this, of course, is to provide the essential relief to civilians affected by the ongoing conflict. Our C-130s dropped 38,000 meals along the coastline of Gaza, allowing for civilian access to the critical assistance. And those locations were chosen specifically as areas where we thought people would be able to best access the aid. There were 66 total bundles, 22 on each aircraft, which were dropped into Gaza to help alleviate the intense hunger and desperate situation there. This will be part of a sustained effort, in conjunction with our international partners, to scale up the amount of life-saving aid we’re getting into Gaza. And really want to make clear this is, kind of, an overall campaign. We’re looking at the land routes, we’re looking at the sea route, we’re looking at the air route to really ensure that we’re exploring every opportunity to get assistance in. And I think with that, let me turn it over to [senior administration official] to give a bit more of his perspective from the ground. SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure, thank you. Just to give you a little bit of background to all of this, the mechanisms that [senior administration official] referred to - opening up Kerem Shalom and making (inaudible) function as an inspection point; more efficiently coordination with Egypt, not just on humanitarian assistance, but commercial goods coming in from Egypt; opening up a channel from Jordan for international assistance headed up to Kerem Shalom - all of these mechanisms have been working. The challenge has not been getting 250, 300 trucks-load of assistance physically into Gaza. The problem has been distribution, and distribution is what matters. If you cannot move assistance from storage facilities, from warehouses - Kerem Shalom, Rafah - out to the communities at need throughout center and south Gaza; if you cannot get aid into the north - and that has been a major challenge since October - you're not meeting the critical needs to provide that minimal feeding that prevents famine. Why is there a problem? The problem has multiple routes. But essentially what has gone on is: With the removal of police from the protective duties, U.N. and other convoys, Emirati, Jordanian, Palestine Red Crescent, lawlessness, which was always a problem in the background, has now moved to a very different level. This is a product of, if you will, commercialization of the assistance; criminal gangs are taking it, looting it, reselling it. They've monetized humanitarian assistance. There's a way that you resolve this problem, and the way is you flood the market. You bring in assistance from every point you can - air, sea, land - you bring it in, and you know that some of this assistance is going to be looted, is going to be self-distributed by desperate people, but you keep coming. And what you do through that - and there's international experience with this - you demonetize these commodities. And with that, you de-incentivize the criminal groups, the gangs involved in attacking trucks, and you reduce the pressure on desperate people, not criminals, who just want food - because the food is there; it's coming in. Now, the President's intent is to see that flooding of the zone, which is why, to go to [senior administration official]’s comments, it is imperative that as many points of entry - the south; points of entry in the north, which we have been pressing for vigorously and about which we are hopeful; a maritime corridor; airdrops - all of them complement the other. And just a final note here: None of these - maritime corridor, airdrops - are an alternative to the fundamental need to move assistance through as many land crossings as possible. That's the most efficient way to get aid in at scale. It's the most efficient way to flood the zone. Thank you. MODERATOR: Okay. I want to turn it next to [senior administration official] to give us an update on the hostage deal that is being negotiated and also how that relates to the humanitarian situation. SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks. I'll be very brief. But just to follow on the points of my colleagues: To really address the urgent needs of the civilian population in Gaza and to enable the humanitarian partners to safely distribute and get that distribution moving - the lifesaving aid - throughout Gaza, from north to center to south, at the scale that is needed, it's essential that we see a ceasefire in Gaza. And the path to a ceasefire right now, literally at this hour, is straightforward. And there's a deal on the table. There's a framework deal. The Israelis have more or less accepted it. And there will be a six-week ceasefire in Gaza starting today if Hamas agrees to release the defined category of vulnerable hostages - this has been under negotiation now for some time - the sick, the wounded, elderly, and women. And again, that deal is on the table. It would bring immediate relief to the people of Gaza, create the conditions needed to enable the urgent humanitarian work that must be done, that my colleagues just referred to. And the onus right now is on Hamas. So there are talks still underway. They're ongoing today in Doha. And we have been working to get this in place by Ramadan for some time. There has been significant progress over the last few weeks. But like all things, until a deal is actually done, it's not done. But that's where we are. The President, as you know, spoke with the emir of Qatar and the president of Egypt this week, both on the hostage deal, really on the details and the remaining gaps. But we're working around the clock to see if we can get this in place here over the coming week. It is just essential for all the reasons that my colleagues just laid out, but also to save the lives of these vulnerable hostages. And I think, again, we have it; the framework is there. The Israelis have basically signed on to the elements of the arrangement. And right now, the ball is in the court of Hamas. And we are continuing to push this as hard as we possibly can, obviously for all the reasons that I just laid out and that my colleagues just briefed. MODERATOR: Thanks. We have time for three or four questions. Our first question will go to the line of Seung Min Kim. You should be able to unmute yourself. Q Thanks so much for holding this call. I know the second senior administration official talked about how some of the aid is inevitably going to be taken by other bad actors. But in terms of the airdrop today, did the aid mostly get to where it needed to go? And who are you partnering with on the ground with to ensure that it's being distributed correctly? And also, did the shipments also include water? SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can take that one. We've been monitoring the location where the assistance was dropped since earlier, when the operation occurred, and we have seen civilians approaching the aid to distribute it amongst themselves. And the sites were specifically chosen as ones where we thought there was the greatest likelihood of safety. But this is being dropped in areas where we know - that are nearby, where people are sheltering and in need. Oh, and no, there was not water included. It was food items - Meals Ready to Eat. MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to the line of Vivian Salama. You should be able to unmute yourself. Q Hey, guys. Thanks so much for doing this. I just wanted to get a status update on if the President has looked at possible maritime aid as well. And so, can you talk a little bit about the imminence, or not, of that and any complications that you're facing with regard to any potential maritime deliveries? Thanks. SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can take this one. The President has instructed us to explore all possible options. As [senior administration official] noted, they include commercial options, they include USG options. This is a complex puzzle that has to be put together. (Inaudible.) (Audio drop) - set as rapidly as we can. MODERATOR: Thanks. Our next question will go to the line of Jeff Mason. You should be able to unmute yourself. Q Thanks very much. Just a couple of follow-up questions. Can you say broadly whether you feel that Israel is cooperating enough on getting aid into Gaza? Do you feel that having done this, having had to do this airdrop today, is a statement at all on their cooperation? And then, a logistical question. Can you give us a sense of where the U.S. planes took off from? And did you coordinate with Hamas for the safety of the aircraft? SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll take this. Look, the airdrops were an indication of the critical need on the part of the population of Gaza, particularly the population in the north. The assistance and its movement into and within Gaza is an ongoing challenge. The challenge is from various sources. But it is not a reflection on Israel or Israeli practices. It's a reflection on need. The need is there. The need in the north is absolutely critical. The need in the south and the center is growing. So I want to clarify on that. [Senior administration official], over to you on the details of the drop logistics. SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. Yes, the airdrops were conducted jointly with the Jordanian Air Force. You saw U.S. C-130s, Jordanian C-130s operating out of Jordan. And the site was, of course, worked through in terms of finding a location where we thought it would be most likely to land safely but also near a population that was in need. But it was not deconflicted - or was not, I should say, coordinated with any specific group on the ground. MODERATOR: Thanks. Our next question will go to the line of Missy Ryan. You should be able to unmute yourself. Q Great. Thank you so much. I just wanted to ask if you could speak about what we should expect going forward about the frequency of these kind of drops, as you all look into the maritime options as well. Is this something that you expect to be happening on a daily basis? And if there's anything you could say about the extent to which this will go to address the needs that are facing Gazans. SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think I would just say that the fact that today's airdrop was successful is an important test case to show that we can do this again in the coming days and weeks successfully. And we - our colleagues at DOD are planning additional drops. But nothing further to share there in terms of timing. I think, really, just to go back to what I said at the beginning, the fact that we are exploring every avenue, every channel, to get assistance into Gaza really just, I think, goes to speak to how dire and desperate the situation is there. So we will continue to pursue air options, maritime options, as well as pushing for additional land routes into Gaza. MODERATOR: Thanks. Our next question will go to the line of Josh Wingrove. You should be able to unmute yourself. Q Hey there. Thank you. I'm just wondering if you can share any more about the status of talks. You describe the Israelis as being more or less on board. Has that been the case for some time? Is that the case as of today or recently? And how can you help us level-set the possibility for an agreement? Is it potentially a day or two, or in the coming week? Is it just too hard to say? Thank you. SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think these negotiations have kind of a pattern to them. So if you go back over the last month, I think - about a month ago, it was really at a deadlock. A framework began to develop. And then the week before this one, we worked very hard with the Israelis to get a framework that is pretty much in the zone of a compromise amongst all the positions that had been on the table, and is a good one. And we had a number of meetings in Israel last week - again, not the week that’s just finishing, but last week. And then the meeting in Paris kind of put that all together. And, yeah, the Israelis have basically accepted what is - I think it's been described - I don't want to negotiate here or go into too much detail - but it is a six-week ceasefire. You would see, for all the reasons that [senior administration official] has briefed, that calm would allow and enable a significant surge of the humanitarian work that has to be done. That is all kind of laid out. And the deal is phased, as the President has said. You know, we've worked to build something even more enduring. But again, it's a hostage - the hostages have to be released. And this vulnerable category of hostages, which is in the first phase, I mean, that is the deal. And it's now at the point of how will that happen and is Hamas committed to doing that. That's really the main issue now. And so, I just want to kind of emphasize - I mean, we would have a ceasefire if Hamas addresses that final issue. I mean, that's basically where it is. So it's a lot of hard work from the Egyptians, the Qataris, from diplomats, from the President. Repeated calls with the Israeli leadership and with the leadership of Qatar and Egypt. And, you know, the deal is basically there. But I don't want to create expectations one way or the other. I'll just say we're doing everything we possibly can to get this in place, just given the importance, and to save the lives of these hostages and bring them out of Gaza, including American citizens. MODERATOR: Thank you. We've got time for two more questions. Our next question will go to the line of Felicia Schwartz. You should be able to unmute yourself. Q Hi. Thanks so much for taking my question. One for [senior administration official] and one for [senior administration official]. I'm wondering how long you think that this proposal, as it exists now, can kind of stay on the table. If Ramadan starts and this doesn't move over the finish line, is that kind of the end for this version? And then, just for [senior administration official] or maybe [senior administration official]: In terms of what was dropped today, were there also trucks that were able to get in today? Can you just give us a sense of how you're seeing this aid complement - you know, how it fits into this broader picture? I think it’s something like 30 or 35 trucks that have been able to get in the past few days, but that number might be wrong. SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think - just want to say on the first one: I just - I don't want to really characterize one way or the other. A lot of work has been done here to get this in place. We're doing all we can to get it finalized as soon as possible. And I think I'll leave it there. And that's going to continue. We've always wanted this in place for Ramadan - to have a Ramadan period in which you have calm and you're able to do the essential humanitarian work that is the focus of this call. You know, this deal would enable that. And so we're going to continue doing all we possibly can. And again, I think right now, because where - the ball is literally in the court of Hamas. And so, the Qataris have work to do. The Egyptians have work to do. That was the focus of the President's calls this week. But I would just say it is a complicated deal. It is more complex than the first deal in November that was a five-day deal, extended day by day. This is a six-week deal, and it has the potential to extend from there. But the first category is this category of vulnerable hostages - again, sick, elderly, and women. And we want to get them out of Gaza, and we think we have the deal in place. And we're going to just keep pushing at it. SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: With respect to trucks moving north, it's our understanding that trucks have indeed moved, both last night and again today. MODERATOR: Thank you. Our last question will go to the line of Hiba Nasr. You should be able to unmute yourself. Q Thanks. My question is to you: One, you say about the hostage deal. I want to understand: When you say there's a framework of a deal on the table and everything is agreed on with the Israelis, is Hamas objecting a specific detail in the deal? This is my first question. And my second question: How do you respond to the critics that what's happening, and the airdrops now in Gaza, is humiliating for the United States because you weren't able to get the aid any other way, and this is also another sign that you don't have leverage over the Israeli government? SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, on the first one, I think I've spoken to it in terms of where things stand, and I think I'll leave it there. The deal is: This category of vulnerable hostages comes out, and you have an immediate ceasefire for about - again, it’s the first phase - six weeks. And then there's the second phase that we have to work out over those six weeks to build something more enduring, as the President has said. So that's where we are. The formula is there after a lot of hard work. And we're going to keep doing all we can to get this in place. But that is the immediate path to calm, to relief - the release of this vulnerable category of hostages. That is on the table now. And, you know, we're going to work to try to get that done. SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: With the second question: Look, we've made clear that the U.S. President's intent is to get as much assistance distributed within Gaza as is possible. The situation on the ground in Gaza is enormously complex. There is a campaign going on. And just to note before the webinar ends, the campaign is going on for a reason. It's because a terrorist group holding hostages, including Americans, is continuing to fight and attack. They could stop this - Hamas could - tonight, instantly, and allow the free movement of assistance, medicine, care to go to the civilians of Gaza with whom, under whom, in whose homes they have embedded themselves for these past 17 years. Now, in this complex world, we've got to find every possible way to move assistance to those in need. The airdrops are part of that process. Q Thank you. MODERATOR: Thanks, everyone. That's all the time we have for today. Let us know if you have any follow-up questions. We're happy to take those. As a reminder, this call was on background, attributable to senior administration officials. And the embargo is now lifted. Have a good rest of your day. 2:07 P.M. EST The post Background Press Call on the Humanitarian Assistance Airdrop into Gaza appeared first on The White House.

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