Over 1,000 USAID officials call for Gaza ceasefire in letter

Palestinians fleeing north Gaza move southward, in the central Gaza Strip

By Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -More than 1,000 officials in the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have signed an open letter urging the Biden administration to call for an immediate ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas, according to a copy of the letter seen by Reuters.

The letter is latest sign of unease within the U.S. government over President Joe Biden's unwavering support for Israel in its response to the Oct. 7 attacks by Palestinian Hamas militants that killed 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians.

Washington has rebuffed calls from Arab and Palestinian leaders and others to call for Israel to halt its assault on the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip which has killed more than 11,000 Palestinians, including over 4,500 children, according to Gaza's health ministry.

"(W)e are alarmed and disheartened at the numerous violations of international law; laws which aim to protect civilians, medical and media personnel, as well as schools, hospitals, and places of worship," the letter reads.

"We believe that further catastrophic loss of human life can only be avoided if the United States Government calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza."

The letter, published on Nov. 2, had now garnered 1,029 signatures from staff of the U.S. aid agency. Signatories' names are hidden but the letter shows it was signed by officials in many of the agency's bureaus in Washington as well as officials posted around the world.

"We appreciate the ongoing dialogue we have with our dedicated staff and partners, and continue to welcome our team to share their opinions with leadership," USAID Spokesperson Jessica Jennings said in an emailed response.

It comes amid protests in the United States and elsewhere calling for a ceasefire, and widespread concern among officials over the U.S. response to the Middle East crisis, which has included the public resignation of one State Department official who said he opposed continued lethal assistance to Israel.

More than 500 people who worked on Biden's 2020 election campaign on Thursday published a letter, seen by Reuters, calling for the president to support an immediate ceasefire, and a group of congressional staffers held a vigil on Wednesday at the Capitol demanding a ceasefire, images on social media showed.

A source familiar with the matter said there has been "deep frustration" among officials in the aftermath of Oct. 7 and how the administration has given what the sources see as a "carte-blanche" to Israel, allowing it conduct a military offensive in Gaza.

The source said they were aware of at least four cables that have been drafted for the State Department's internal "dissent channel," which allows diplomats to raise concerns about policy anonymously with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The State Department does not confirm the existence of dissent cables.

The department has held a number of listening sessions in the past month, including in U.S. missions in the Middle East, two sources who attended the sessions said.

Deputy State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said on Thursday it has been important for Blinken and other leaders to "engage directly with the workforce," a reference to listening sessions held with concerned staff.

"We also recognize that this has been a trying time for our workforce," Patel said.

"We have ensured that our missions around the world, particularly those that might be more heightened attention right now to what’s happening in the Middle East have access to those resources and are able to interface with department leaders about not just what’s happening in the region, but the ways that this department can continue to serve them."

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis, Editing by Angus MacSwan and Diane Craft)