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Vermont’s Congressional delegation calls for humanitarian aid for Palestinians, urgent stop to civilian casualties

A photo of a man sitting on rubble with more destroyed buildings and people standing by them in the background.
Mahmoud Abo Salamah
Associated Press
Palestinians look for survivors after an Israeli strike on a building last night in Jebaliya refugee camp, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.

Vermont’s two U.S. senators visited leaders of the United Nations this week to discuss the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

In the past month, Israeli airstrikes have killed thousands of Palestinians in Gaza, most of them women and children.

Israel has also targeted hospitals in Gaza, damaged or destroyed up to a third of the buildings there, and severely limited or totally cut off food, water and fuel.

These actions are part of what Israel says is its effort to destroy Hamas. It's in response to a Hamas attack on Oct. 7 that killed roughly 1,200 people in Israel. Hamas also took more than 200 people hostage.

In an interview Tuesday, Sen. Peter Welch told Vermont Public he thinks Israel’s focus should be more targeted attacks against identified Hamas leaders.

“Rather than the destruction of infrastructure that's going to make any kind of normalcy impossible for the innocent Palestinians,” he said.

On Monday, Welch and Sen. Bernie Sanders met with the head of the U.N. General Assembly, António Guterres, and representatives from Israel, Egypt and H.E. Riyad H. Mansour, the ambassador of the Permanent Observer Mission of the State of Palestine to the U.N.

Sanders separately spoke with U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

“Our goal remains to do everything we can to stop the indiscriminate bombing which has caused massive civilian casualties, bring in desperately needed humanitarian aid, and protect innocent people in Gaza,” Welch and Sanders said in a statement released on Monday. “This is a humanitarian catastrophe, and we need action now.”

In their statement, Welch and Sanders highlighted the growing urgency to protect civilian lives in Gaza. However, both stopped short of calling for a cease-fire, which most members of Congress are also refusing to do.

That’s something the U.N. General Assembly has called for. The international body says a “humanitarian cease-fire" is the way forward.

Meanwhile the United States and the Group of Seven have called for a “humanitarian pause.” While closely related, neither term is defined under international law. Pentagon officials have said a pause would be shorter and aid-focused, whereas a cease-fire would likely entail third-party negotiations and could hold indefinitely depending on the scope of the agreement.

The third member of Vermont’s delegation, U.S. Rep. Becca Balint, has stuck to the term “humanitarian pause.”

In a statement released Friday, Balint wrote:

“An immediate humanitarian pause to the fighting in Gaza is needed to get all necessary supplies to Palestinians in desperate need. We must reduce human suffering and preserve the lives and safety of civilians in Gaza. During this humanitarian pause Hamas must immediately release all hostages.”

Balint added that she was “heartbroken by Hamas’ brutal attack on civilians and support[s] Israel’s right to defend itself. Hamas still poses a clear and present danger to Israel.”

But both Balint and Welch say Israel risks losing support if its military doesn’t take steps to reduce civilian casualties.

"Any Israeli military strategy that ignores the human costs of its actions could backfire by undermining Israel’s standing in the world and further fan the flames of violence in the region," Balint said in the Friday statement.

In a social media post on Monday, Balint reiterated the human cost of Israel's attacks on Gaza and wrote “the bombing must stop.”

Last week, Balint faced hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters when they called for a cease-fire outside of a fundraiser for her in Burlington.

VTDigger reported that Balint acknowledged the demonstrators’ First Amendment rights, but that she also said a cease-fire was not something Hamas would agree to.

According to VTDigger, a meeting between Balint and the protest organizers was set for this week.

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Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
Elodie is a reporter and producer for Vermont Public. She previously worked as a multimedia journalist at the Concord Monitor, the St. Albans Messenger and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, and she's freelanced for The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, the Berkshire Eagle and the Bennington Banner. In 2019, she earned her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Southern New Hampshire University.
Brittany Patterson joined Vermont Public in December 2020. Previously, she was an energy and environment reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting and the Ohio Valley ReSource. Prior to that, she covered public lands, the Interior Department and forests for E&E News' ClimateWire, based in Washington, D.C. Brittany also teaches audio storytelling and has taught classes at West Virginia University, Saint Michael's College and the University of Vermont. She holds degrees in journalism from San Jose State University and U.C. Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. A native of California, Brittany has fallen in love with Vermont. She enjoys hiking, skiing, baking and cuddling with her rescues, a 95-pound American Bulldog mix named Cooper, and Mila, the most beautiful calico cat you'll ever meet.
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