Jake Sullivan: ‘Critical’ that there be safe places for civilians in Gaza to go

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As the likelihood of an Israeli offensive in Gaza mounts, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Sunday emphasized the need for the Israeli military to allow civilians in Gaza to get to relative safety.

“The critical thing from our perspective is that there be safe places for civilians to go that will not be subject to military bombardment, where they can be safe physically, and where they can have access to the essential food, water, medicine, shelter,” Sullivan said during interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“The many, many Palestinians who have had nothing to do with the brutal terrorist organization Hamas — the vast majority of the population of Gaza — they deserve dignity. They deserve safety and security,” adding the United States was working with regional partners “to ensure that.”

Palestinians in Gaza are bracing for an imminent Israeli ground invasion, in the wake of the deadly Hamas-led attack in Israel’s southern region last week. During that Oct. 7 surprise attack, Hamas militants stormed out of the Gaza Strip, killing more than 1,300 Israelis and abducting dozens more, while firing rockets at cities including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Israel has since commenced a siege of Gaza, firing its own barrage of retaliatory missiles and killing more than 2,000 Palestinians, while restricting access to food and electricity in the region that’s long been blockaded by Israel and Egypt.

Sullivan, one of President Joe Biden’s most trusted foreign policy advisers, is expected to play a key role in shaping the administration’s approach to the conflict. On Sunday, he said he could not confirm whether any U.S. citizens have been killed in Gaza itself, though some are known to be held there.

As of Sunday morning, the U.S. had not been able to get any American citizens through the border crossing in Gaza, “and I'm not aware of anyone else being able to get out at this time,” Sullivan told NBC’s Kristen Welker.

Sullivan was appearing on multiple Sunday morning shows to discuss American positions on the ongoing conflict. The Biden administration has supported Israel in the days following the Hamas' Oct. 7 attacks, but also spoken about the dangers that the war poses to civilians.

Ahead of its expected ground invasion, Israel has advised Palestinian civilians living in the northern part of the region to move south to avoid the expected fighting, but Hamas has urged people to stay in their homes.

The U.N. and aid groups have wanted that such an exodus could cause untold human suffering. The World Health Organization said the evacuation “could be tantamount to a death sentence” for the more than 2,000 patients in northern hospitals, including newborns in incubators and people in intensive care, according to the Associated Press.

Exactly when Israel could launch an invasion of Gaza is still unclear.

"I'll have to leave that to the Israeli Defense Forces, to the IDF, to answer. They will determine their timetable, and they will determine the scope and nature of that operation," Sullivan told CNN's Jake Tapper during an interview on "State of the Union."