Israel continues Gaza onslaught despite US envoy’s ‘new phase of war’

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to meet Palestine’s Mahmoud Abbas after talks with Israeli officials.

Jake Sullivan
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan says during a visit to Israel that it would transition to precise targeting of Hamas fighters in Gaza although the Israeli bombardment continued on December 15, 2023, killing dozens of Palestinians [Violeta Santos Moura/Reuters]

Israel has continued to pound Gaza despite a senior United States official saying that Tel Aviv has agreed to end widespread bombing and ground operations and move towards precision targeting of Hamas.

Despite mounting international calls for restraint, Israel on Friday pressed on with its offensive in Gaza. Air strikes across the strip killed dozens of people, according to local authorities.

The bombardment came after US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“There will be a transition to another phase of this war, one that is focused in more precise ways on targeting the leadership and on intelligence-driven operations,” the US envoy told reporters in Tel Aviv after the meeting.

However, he did not say when the shift would happen.

The US agrees with Israel that the war on Gaza will still last for months, Sullivan added, noting “intensive discussions” about future stages of the conflict and the aftermath.

Washington is also working to release the remaining Israeli captives held in Gaza, he said.

‘America’s face-saving’

Sullivan will travel to the occupied West Bank later on Friday to meet Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Sullivan told Netanyahu that it is not appropriate for Israel to occupy Gaza in the long term.

“We do not believe that it makes sense for Israel or is right for Israel to occupy Gaza, reoccupy Gaza over the long term. … Ultimately, the control of Gaza, the administration of Gaza and the security of Gaza has to transition to the Palestinians.”

Washington has suggested that after the war, the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority, which oversees the West Bank, could play a role in governing Gaza instead of Hamas, something Sullivan may discuss with Abbas.

Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, Marwan Bishara, asserted that “the world’s foremost superpower of the past 70 years” is being humiliated by Israel.

“America laid few red lines: No reoccupation of Gaza, which is now no reoccupation of Gaza long term; no indiscriminate bombing. And then Sullivan comes to the region and says, ‘No, we understand,’” he said.

“Every time we talk about a spat, it involves Israel spitting and America’s face-saving. It is not exactly an equal relationship. The patron continues to follow the orders of the client,” Bishara added.

‘Immediate protection’

The US is a key military backer of Israel in its war on Hamas in Gaza, which has killed more than 18,700 Palestinians – mostly women and children. Israel launched the offensive after Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people.

The US has repeatedly vetoed UN Security Council resolutions calling for a ceasefire in the war, but it has recently been more critical of Israel’s killing of Palestinian civilians with President Joe Biden on Thursday urging Israel to “be focused on how to save civilian lives” and to “be more careful”.

Despite mounting international calls for restraint, Israel on Friday continued its offensive in Gaza and wound down its longest raid on the occupied West Bank since the war began.

Hospitals in Deir el-Balah, Khan Younis and Rafah reported rising casualties after strikes early in the morning.

In Khan Younis in southern Gaza, an Israeli attack near a school run by the United Nations killed at least 33 people, health authorities said.

In the eastern part of Rafah, also in the south, there was a heavy exchange of fire, Al Jazeera’s reporters said.

Israel’s military also continued to target the occupied West Bank, where its raids and settler violence have killed 289 Palestinians and wounded 3,365.

In Jenin in the West Bank, the Israeli army ended a raid on a refugee camp that began on Tuesday. At least 12 people were killed and more than 500 arrested, Al Jazeera reporters said, although some have been released.

The United Kingdom and a dozen other countries – including Australia, Canada and France – on Friday called on Israel to take immediate and concrete steps to tackle settler violence in the West Bank.

“This rise in extremist settler violence committed against Palestinians is unacceptable,” the countries said in a joint statement published by the British government.

“Proactive steps must now be taken to ensure the effective and immediate protection of Palestinian communities.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies