US criticises Israel over rising civilian toll in Gaza
Bassam Masoud and Maayan Lubell |
There is a gap between the Israeli government’s declared intentions to protect civilians and the casualties in southern Gaza, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken says in his strongest public criticism of Israel’s conduct of the war on Hamas.
“As we stand here almost a week into this campaign into the south … it remains imperative that Israel put a premium on civilian protection,” Blinken told a press conference after meeting British Foreign Secretary David Cameron in Washington on Thursday.
“And there does remain a gap between … the intent to protect civilians and the actual results that we’re seeing on the ground.”
Israel says it must wipe out the Hamas militant group after its attack on Israel two months ago and is doing everything possible to get civilians out of harm’s way, including warnings about military operations.
US President Joe Biden spoke separately by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah on Thursday.
Biden “emphasised the critical need to protect civilians and to separate the civilian population from Hamas including through corridors that allow people to move safely from defined areas of hostilities,” the White House said.
More than 17,170 Palestinians have been killed and 46,000 wounded, according to the Gaza health ministry, since October 7, when Israel began bombarding Gaza in response to a cross-border rampage by Iran-backed Hamas militants, who control the enclave.
The Hamas attack killed 1200 people, with 240 people taken hostage, according to Israel’s tally.
Hostages still held by Hamas have been kept incommunicado in Gaza despite Israel’s calls on the Red Cross to arrange visits and verify their wellbeing.
The Israeli military on Friday said 92 of its soldiers had been killed in Gaza fighting since its ground incursions began on October 20.
Hundreds more Palestinians were killed as Israel fought Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip’s biggest cities on Thursday – 350 people, according to Gaza health ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qidra.
Israel said its forces killed gunmen in Khan Younis, including two who emerged firing from a tunnel.
Arab states have renewed their push for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, with the United Arab Emirates asking the United Nations Security Council to vote on Friday morning on a draft resolution.
The US and Israel oppose a ceasefire, saying it would only benefit Hamas.
Blinken is due to meet top diplomats from Arab states, including Egypt, on Friday in Washington.
A resolution needs at least nine votes in favour and no vetoes by the five permanent members – the US, Russia, China, France or Britain – to be adopted.
The US does not support any further action by the council at this time.
As pressure mounts on Israel over the civilian toll of its war to destroy Hamas, the Palestinian Authority is working with US officials on a plan to run Gaza after the war, Bloomberg News reported.
Citing Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, it said the preferred outcome would be for Hamas to become a junior partner under the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), helping to build a new independent state that includes the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
“If they (Hamas) are ready to come to an agreement and accept the political platform of the PLO, then there will be room for talk,” Shtayyeh said, adding Israel’s aim to fully defeat Hamas was unrealistic.
“Palestinians should not be divided.”
A US official said on Thursday Israel had agreed to open the Kerem Shalom border crossing for the inspection of trucks and their cargo.
Egypt and the UN have lobbied Israel to speed up an inspection process, that requires vehicles to drive to Egypt’s border with Israel before looping back to Rafah.
The number of trucks crossing daily has dropped to fewer than 100 from almost 200 during a November 24 to December 1 truce, the UN says.Reuters