Hamas is preventing hundreds of American citizens from leaving the Gaza Strip, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan revealed to CBS on Sunday, ahead of a scheduled call between President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The challenge right now … is that the Egyptians are prepared to let Americans and other foreign nationals out of Gaza. The Israelis have no issue with that. But Hamas is preventing their departure and making a series of demands,” Sullivan told CBS’s “Face the Nation” program.
“We’re trying to work through that to create a circumstance where all of the Americans who are in Gaza are able to get out. It is a priority for the president. He has no higher priority than their safe passage out,” he added.
Some 500 to 600 U.S. citizens are believed to be stuck in the Hamas-controlled enclave, Washington previously confirmed. Sullivan did not elaborate on the demands the terrorist group was making to permit their departure.
In a separate interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Sullivan said Biden would speak again with Netanyahu on Sunday and stress the need for the Israeli army “to make every possible effort to distinguish between terrorists and Palestinian civilians during the ground operation in Gaza.”
Hamas’s use of human shields “creates an added burden for Israel but does not lessen Israel’s responsibility under international law to distinguish between terrorists and civilians and to protect the lives of innocent people,” claimed the Biden administration official.
The U.S. has been asking Jerusalem “hard questions” about “Israeli military objectives and the steps they have taken and intend to take to achieve those objectives,” added Sullivan.
“We’ve asked them hard questions, the same hard questions that we would ask ourselves if we were seeking to conduct an operation to take out a terrorist threat,” he continued. “We pressed them on questions like objectives and matching means to objectives, about both tactical and strategic issues associated with this operation.”
The Israel Defense Forces continues to expand its ground operations in the Strip.
Soldiers of the 52nd “The Breachers” Battalion, part of the Armored Corps’ 401st “Iron Tracks” Brigade, who entered the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday, raised the Israeli flag on one of the buildings there, according to video documentation shared online.
A soldier recording his comrades raising the flag can be heard in the video saying that three weeks after the Oct. 7 massacre of Israelis by Hamas terrorists, troops “lift the flag of Israel in the heart of Gaza, along the beach. We will not forget, we will not forgive and we will not stop until victory.”
Israel launched “Operation Swords of Iron” on Oct. 7 after Hamas invaded southern Israel, murdering at least 1,400 people, wounding more than 5,000 and taking over 200 hostages back to Gaza. According to the IDF, the families of 230 people have been notified that their loved ones are being held by Hamas.