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National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan says U.S. working on

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National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan says U.S. working on

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As the United States deploys more military power to the eastern Mediterranean, likely in the face of impending escalation in the and amid concerns about wider regional conflict, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday that facilitating the safe exit of Palestinian-Americans out of Gaza is a main priority for the Biden administration.

“We are very focused on first … making sure that all American citizens in Gaza have safe passage out of Gaza and into Egypt,” Sullivan said on “Face the Nation” Sunday morning.

“We’re working on that round the clock,” he told moderator Margaret Brennan. “We’re not going to rest until that happens.”

Sullivan said U.S. officials are taking steps to provide the broader civilian population of Gaza access to safe areas as well as critical resources like food, water, shelter and medicine, “because the vast majority of Palestinians in Gaza have nothing to do with Hamas.” 

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White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on “Face the Nation,” Oct. 15, 2023.

CBS News


Fighting between Israel and Hamas is expected to intensify as Israel prepares for a potential ground operation in Gaza. Relentless Israeli airstrikes on the territory have continued since Oct. 7, when the Palestinian militant group Hamas orchestrated a brutal terror attack on Israel. 

Israel’s military said the initial attack by Hamas and continued rocket fire from Gaza has killed more than 1,300 people and wounded at least 3,200 others as of Sunday. 

At least 29 American citizens are known to be among the dead, while 15 others, and one U.S. permanent resident, remain unaccounted for, a State Department spokesperson confirmed on Saturday. 

The Israeli military said Sunday that at least 155 people were taken captive by Hamas to Gaza.

Meanwhile, the Gaza Health Ministry reported Sunday that at least 2,329 people, including 724 children, had so far been killed in Israeli airstrikes, and another 9,714 were wounded. 

Asked whether the Biden administration’s decision to deploy a second aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean came in response to new intelligence suggesting the threat of Iran’s involvement in the war has grown, Sullivan said, “we don’t have some specific new intelligence that the threat is different today from yesterday.”

“The threat yesterday was real. The threat today is real. There is a risk of an escalation of this conflict, the opening of a second front in the north, and of course of Iran’s involvement- that is a risk,” he said. 

He added that President Biden “wants to send a very clear message of deterrence to any state or any actor that would seek to exploit this situation.”

Sullivan’s comments came as Israel and Hezbollah — a Lebanese group with a militant wing that, like Hamas, is backed by Iran and has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. — exchanged fire on Sunday, killing at least one person in Israel along the Lebanese border. 

“We are concerned about proxy forces,” said Sullivan, citing Hezbollah and “skirmishes across that northern border [between Israel and Lebanon] that only enhances the risk of escalation” in the last few days.

“But of course, we can’t rule out that Iran would choose to get directly engaged some way,” he said. “We have to prepare for every possible contingency.”

Authorities in Gaza said Sunday that hospitals were running out of basic supplies and fuel for generators, warning that thousands of people could die, while the United Nations estimated that almost a million residents of the Gaza Strip — a densely packed stretch of land along the Mediterranean Sea that has been under Israeli blockade since 2007 and is normally home to 2.3 million — had been displaced since the war started. Many Palestinians were rushing to escape northern Gaza after Israel instructed civilians to leave the area immediately, driving fears of a probable ground invasion by the Israeli military while the only exit from Gaza, the Rafah border crossing into Egypt, remained closed.  

“We are in hourly contact with our counterparts in the Israeli Defense Forces and security services. We are talking to them about their plans for moving in on the ground in Gaza,” said Sullivan, adding, “It’s not for me to say what their timetable is. I think they will need to speak to that.”

The U.S. has estimated that between 500 and 600 Palestinian-Americans in Gaza have shown interest in receiving information about leaving the territory. 

“The U.S. government is working to secure the safe exit of U.S. citizens from Gaza,” a spokesperson for the State Department said in a statement on Saturday. “We have informed U.S. citizens in Gaza with whom we are in contact that if they assess it to be safe, they may wish to move closer to the Rafah border crossing – there may be very little notice if the crossing opens and it may only open for a limited time.”

Officials had not as of Sunday released the number of U.S. citizens who have successfully left Gaza, and Americans in Gaza were told that “any opening” of the Rafah gate would occur on short notice. A State Department spokesperson said officials were “in communication with U.S. citizens requesting assistance departing Gaza” and called the situation “fluid.”

Sullivan said Sunday that “the definition of success” for Israel “ultimately will be the long term safety and security of the Jewish state and the Jewish people.”

“And what that will mean is their ability to eliminate the threat that Hamas poses to Israel,” he continued. “That is the definition of success that they have set out. That is what they are working for in trying to take out the terror infrastructure in Gaza. They are working through that, as they have said, through the aerial campaign and ultimately they are looking at operations on the ground and otherwise to try to effectuate that outcome.”

— Margaret Brennan contributed reporting.

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