World

Israeli campaign in southern Gaza must be ‘carefully thought through’ – US

A Palestinian woman checks fruit in Gaza City which has been devastated by Israeli bombing (Mohammed Hajjar/AP)
A Palestinian woman checks fruit in Gaza City which has been devastated by Israeli bombing (Mohammed Hajjar/AP) A Palestinian woman checks fruit in Gaza City which has been devastated by Israeli bombing (Mohammed Hajjar/AP)

The Biden administration has told Israel it must work to avoid “significant further displacement” of Palestinian civilians in southern Gaza if it renews its ground campaign aimed at eradicating the Hamas militant group, US officials said.

The administration, seeking to avoid more large-scale civilian casualties or mass displacement like that seen before the current temporary pause in the fighting, has told the Israelis that they must operate with far greater precision in southern Gaza than they did in the north, the officials said.

Amid mounting international and domestic pressure about the rising Palestinian death toll, the White House has begun to put greater pressure on Israel that the manner of the coming campaign must be “carefully thought through”, according to one of the officials.

The Israelis have been receptive when administration officials have raised these concerns, the official said.

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Israel Palestinians Humanitarian aid trucks arrive in Rafah (Hatem Ali/AP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear that Israeli Defence Forces will eventually restart military operations after the conclusion of the temporary ceasefire that has allowed for an exchange of hostages taken by Hamas for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

The two sides agreed on Monday to extend the truce for an additional two days and to continue swapping hostages for prisoners.

President Joe Biden has said he would like to see the pause — which has also allowed a surge of much-needed humanitarian aid into Gaza — continue as long as feasible.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will return this week to the Middle East as the US hopes to find a way to extend the ceasefire and get more hostages released, the State Department said on Monday. It will be his third trip to the region since Israel’s war with Hamas began last month.

Still, Mr Biden and top officials have also been clear-eyed about Israel’s desire to continue operations focused on Hamas that over the last seven weeks have largely focused on the north.

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United States Israel Palestinians President Joe Biden has been concerned about the level of civilian casualties (Stephanie Scarbrough/AP)

They have said they support Israel’s goal of eliminating Hamas’s control over Gaza and the threat it poses to Israeli civilians, but have grown more vocal about the need to protect the lives of Palestinian civilians.

Hamas has been known to seek shelter among the territory’s civilian population, and Israeli officials have released videos from northern Gaza of what they said are weapons stockpiles and firing locations placed among civilian infrastructure.

More than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed since the war began on October 7, roughly two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza.

More than 1,200 people have been killed on the Israeli side, mostly civilians killed in the initial attack. At least 77 soldiers have been killed in Israel’s ground offensive.

The US believes roughly two million Palestinians are now in south and central Gaza. Biden administration officials have made clear to the Israelis that an already stretched humanitarian support network would be unable to cope with the sort of displacement that those from northern Gaza have endured in Israel’s retaliatory strikes and ground operations.