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Israel announces changes after Biden expresses 'outrage' over civilian deaths

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Israel says it is opening new routes to get aid into Gaza amid mounting pressure to provide that desperately needed aid to the people trapped there. The announcement came after President Biden expressed outrage over the Israeli airstrikes that killed seven World Central Kitchen staff members in Gaza this week. He also warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that future U.S. support would depend on whether Israel takes, quote-unquote, "immediate action to protect civilians and aid workers." National Security Council spokesman John Kirby is with us, and we hope he can tell us more about all this.

Good morning, Mr. Kirby.

JOHN KIRBY: Good morning, Michel. Good to be with you.

MARTIN: It's good to have you. The administration has called for a quick and dramatic increase in aid. Can you put some numbers on that?

KIRBY: Well, we want to see upwards of 300 trucks trying to - you know, getting in every day. You know, before the war it was around 500. We know it's a war zone. So that's a difficult measure to match again, but we want to see 300 to 350 trucks getting in every day. That's one assessment that we'll be making. We want to see more crossings opened up. We welcome the announcement last night of additional crossings being open and expanded hours at some of the existing crossings. That's all good. It's a good thing. And it's a good start. But what we're going to be looking for over time is whether Israel meets those commitments to allow that additional assistance in. We also want to see practical, tangible and, quite frankly, achievable mitigation measures in place so that these kinds of strikes can't happen again.

Now, the Israelis have posted online the results of their independent investigation. The prime minister's office has taken some accountability, relieving a couple of officers of command, disciplining others and putting in place civilian harm mitigation measures. All that, again, is - are welcome. But what's really going to matter is how they execute on those commitments and what they look like over time.

MARTIN: So the administration has called for concrete, tangible steps. What I think I hear you saying is that the steps that Israel is outlining - do those qualify? Are there any...

KIRBY: These are certainly...

MARTIN: ...Additional requirements?

KIRBY: They're certainly welcome steps. You know, look. We didn't come into the call yesterday, you know, with - you know, with a laundry list of things that they had to check off. But it was, we need to see tangible, concrete steps, as you rightly said, to mitigate harm to civilians, to allow for aid workers to move freely around in Gaza safely and to get more assistance in. The other thing that the president stressed with Prime Minister Netanyahu was that we want to see that these negotiations conclude to get the hostage deal in place - an immediate temporary cease-fire in place so that these hostages can be safely brought out but also so that the aid can move more freely.

MARTIN: OK.

KIRBY: So, I mean, there was a lot on there.

MARTIN: And did the president lay out any potential consequences if these conditions are not met?

KIRBY: He made it clear to the prime minister that if we don't see meaningful changes in their policy approaches to Gaza, we were going to have to make some policy changes on Gaza ourselves.

MARTIN: And the groups like Amnesty International have called on the administration to stop providing weapons to Israel over their potential use in airstrikes on civilians. Is that on the table?

KIRBY: I won't get ahead of the president or close down his decision space. I would just leave it the way we said yesterday. If we don't see changes on their part, we're going to have to look at making changes on our part. I think it is important to remember that Israel lives in a tough neighborhood. It's not just Hamas that threatens Israel. They're threatened by Hezbollah. They're getting - they're being threatened by the Houthis down in Yemen and, of course, the militia groups in Iraq and Syria. So they live in a tough neighborhood. What the president stressed was that we take this threat from Iran very, very seriously against Israel. And we're going to continue to make sure that they can defend themselves.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, are there any plans for President Biden to talk directly to the American people about all this, who are obviously very concerned?

KIRBY: Well, he certainly has been talking to the American people about this, and he will continue to do so. I don't have anything on the calendar to announce today, but he will absolutely make clear to the American people and to the Israeli people how much this matters and how he's approaching it.

MARTIN: That is National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. Mr. Kirby, thank you so much for joining us once again.

KIRBY: Thanks for having me, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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