US presses Israel to do more to protect civilians in Gaza
WASHINGTON, Dec 8, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday urged Israel to do more to allow humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip and to protect civilians in the Palestinian territory, in a call with Israeli Foreign Minister Ron Dermer, a US official said.
Blinken welcomed Israel's approval late Wednesday of a "minimal" increase in fuel supplies to Gaza, where Israeli troops have been battling Hamas militants for over a month.
But he asked Dermer to do more, a senior State Department official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
The United States has offered Israel its unflagging support and supported its right to self-defense in the wake of the deadly October 7 attack by Hamas.
But the administration of President Joe Biden has worried more and more publicly about the civilian death toll in Gaza and the deteriorating humanitarian situation.
Washington's balancing act with Israel was made clear in comments by veteran diplomat Kurt Campbell, who has been nominated to serve as deputy secretary of state.
"I do believe that we have been careful publicly and very clear privately about some of our concerns about the conduct of the military operation," Campbell told his confirmation hearing Thursday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
He highlighted the "difference between Hamas fighters and Palestinian civilians, also, and particularly, children and women."
"Those conversations are ongoing," Campbell added.
When asked by a Democratic senator if he would recommend putting conditions on US military aid to Israel, Campbell replied he would not "at this time."
Blinken has been to Israel four times since the start of the war to offer US support to the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and to put pressure on Israeli officials.
Fighting is currently intensifying in the southern Gaza Strip, where many Palestinians had sought refuge from fighting near Gaza City.
On October 7, Hamas militants broke through Gaza's militarized border, killing around 1,200 people and seizing hostages, 138 of whom remain captive, according to Israeli figures.
The death toll in Gaza has soared to 17,177, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.