US presses Israel on civilian deaths, move to ‘lower intensity’ war in Gaza

US President Joe Biden says Israel should be ‘more careful’ in order to protect civilians in Gaza.

President Joe Biden speaks to reporters in Nantucket, Mass., on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023, about hostages freed by Hamas in the first stage of a swap under a four-day cease-fire deal
US President Joe Biden has expressed concern over the civilian death toll in Gaza [File: Stephanie Scarbrough/AP Photo]

The United States has ramped up pressure on Israel to minimise civilian deaths in Gaza as Washington presses its ally to shift to a “lower intensity” war against Hamas.

Speaking to reporters as his top national security adviser visited Israel on Thursday, US President Joe Biden urged Israel to take greater care to protect civilians.

“I want them to be focused on how to save civilian lives. Not stop going after Hamas, but be more careful,” Biden told reporters when asked whether Israel should scale back its military campaign in Gaza.

Biden’s comments came as National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other members of the Israeli war cabinet to discuss conditions for transitioning to more targeted military operations in Gaza.

Sullivan and Netanyahu discussed “objectives, phasing and setting conditions for shifts over time from high-intensity clearing operations to lower-intensity surgical operations against Hamas remnants”, the White House said in a statement.

White House spokesman John Kirby said later that Sullivan discussed a possible transition to “lower-intensity operations” in the near future, but the administration has not put a “timestamp” on the shift.

Kirby said Washington wants to see the war end as soon as possible, but Hamas has the ultimate responsibility for ending the conflict.

“They can end it right now by letting those people go, by ordering their fighters to lay down their arms, and by turning in everyone else responsible for the October 7th attacks,” he said.

“Jake also discussed the next phase of Israel’s military campaign.  And he asked hard questions, as we have been doing, about what all that could look like.”

Sullivan’s visit to Israel, which continues on Friday with meetings with top Israeli officials including President Isaac Herzog, comes amid signs of growing divisions between Biden and Netanyahu over the death toll in Gaza and the timeframe for ending the war.

On Tuesday, Biden delivered his strongest rebuke of Netanyahu’s handling of the conflict yet, warning that Israel’s “indiscriminate bombing” is costing it international support.

Netanyahu said in a statement released after meeting with Sullivan that the war would continue until Hamas is eradicated, after Foreign Minister Eli Cohen pledged a day earlier to keep fighting “with or without international support”.

“I told our American friends: Our heroic soldiers have not fallen in vain,” Netanyahu said.

“Out of the deep pain of their having fallen, we are more determined than ever to continue fighting until Hamas is eliminated – until absolute victory.”

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told Sullivan in publicly broadcast remarks on Thursday that the war will last “more than several months”.

At least 18,787 people, including more than 7,700 children, have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, according to Palestinian officials. About 1,147 people, mostly civilians, were killed in Hamas’s October 7 attacks on southern Israel, according to Israeli officials.

On Tuesday, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to adopt a nonbinding resolution calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza.

The resolution was supported by 153 countries, with 10 nations, including the US, voting against it.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies