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US urges Israel to do more to protect Gaza civilians

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19 December 2023, Canberra Times / AAP, by Nidal Al-Mughrabi, Bassam Masoud and James Mackenzie

Washington’s support for Israel is “unshakable” but its ally must do more to protect civilians, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says, as the country’s war against Hamas brings yet more death and destruction to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Lloyd, speaking during a visit to Israel, said Hamas was a “fanatical terrorist group” that should never again be able to make attacks on Israel from Gaza.

His visit came amid growing concern from foreign governments and international organisations over the death toll among civilians in Gaza from Israeli bombardments as well as rising hunger and destitution.

The Gaza health ministry said on Monday that 19,453 Palestinians had been killed and 52,286 wounded in the Israeli assault on the Hamas-ruled enclave in more than two months of warfare.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to achieve total victory over Hamas, whose fighters killed 1200 people and took 240 hostages in the surprise October 7 raid into Israel that triggered the war, according to Israeli tallies.

Austin told a news conference in Tel Aviv he had discussed with Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant how to reduce harm to civilians trapped in the battlefield.

They also talked about a transition from major combat to a lower-intensity conflict.

“In any campaign, there will be phases,” Austin said on Monday.

“We will also continue to urge the protection of civilians during conflict and to increase the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza.”

While the United States provides Israel with weapons and diplomatic support, it has recently sharpened its tone towards Netanyahu’s government.

Last week President Joe Biden said Israel risked losing international support because of what he called its “indiscriminate” bombing.

Austin, however, offered reassurance, saying: “American support for Israel security is unshakable. Israel is not alone”.

Gallant, meanwhile, said Israel would gradually transition to the next phase of its operations in Gaza and displaced people would likely be able to return first to the north of the enclave.

Austin also renewed US calls for a two-state solution to the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying both Israelis and Palestinians “deserve a horizon of hope”.

Those remarks followed a meeting with Netanyahu, who at the weekend expressed pride in past opposition to the formation of a Palestinian state.

In the hours after Austin spoke, Gaza residents reported an increase in Israeli air and tank fire across the territory.

Twelve people were killed, medics said. They included three people, two of them children, in an Israeli air strike on a house in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, they said.

On the Israeli side, the military released the names of four more soldiers killed in combat in Gaza, making it 126 dead in the strip since its ground invasion began in late October.

The war has left Gaza largely in ruins. Food is scarce for the territory’s 2.3 million people, basic services have collapsed and most people are homeless.

Heightened violence also continued in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where four Palestinians were killed in an Israeli army raid on the Faraa refugee camp, the Palestinian health ministry said.

Two US officials told Reuters that CIA chief Bill Burns would meet Qatar’s prime minister and the head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency in Warsaw on Monday to discuss a potential new deal to secure the release of the Israeli hostages.

But Hamas official Osama Hamdan, speaking in Beirut, said that while the group was open to initiatives from Qatar and Egypt on a hostage exchange, there would be no negotiations until Israel stopped its war on Gaza.

Hamas’ armed wing posted a video message showing three elderly Israeli hostages pleading for their release.

One man, who identified himself as 79-year-old Haiem Bery, said in Hebrew that they had chronic illnesses and were living in very harsh conditions.

“We don’t understand why we have been abandoned here,” he said.

“You have to release us from here. It does not matter the cost.”

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Article source: Canberra Times / AAP | Nidal Al-Mughrabi, Bassam Masoud and James Mackenzie | 19.12.23

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000