In his strongest remarks on the Israel-Hamas war till date, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday said that there remains a gap between Israel's intent to protect civilians and the results on the ground in Gaza, as the humanitarian situation in the besieged territory continues to worsen, reported Reuters.
Heavy fighting in and around the southern city of Khan Younis has displaced tens of thousands of people in a territory where over 80 per cent of the population has already fled their homes and cut most of Gaza off from deliveries of food, water and other vital aid. As Israeli Defence Forces (IDF)personnel battled Hamas militants, hundreds of Palestinians have been killed after a week-long ceasefire expired last month.
Before the truce expired, US officials told Israel it must limit civilian deaths and displacement, saying too many Palestinians were killed when it obliterated much of Gaza City and the north. The ongoing operations have increased US concerns as the devastation of Gaza and the deaths of Palestinian civilians continue to mount.
What did Blinken say?
In a press conference with UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, Blinken said, "As we stand here almost a week into this campaign in the south, after the end of the humanitarian pause...it remains imperative that Israel put a premium on civilian protection. And there does remain a gap between, exactly what I said when I was there, the intent to protect civilians and the actual results that we're seeing on the ground."
The US had emphasised that Israel should establish deconfliction areas where people can go to avoid coming into the line of fire as the fighting with Hamas escalated. It had asked Israel to operate with greater precision in southern Gaza, where the majority of the 2.3 million population is crammed after repeated evacuation orders.
"We continue to recognize the extraordinary difficulty of this task as Israel is dealing with a terrorist adversary that intentionally embeds itself with civilians. But again, Israel has an obligation to do everything possible to put a premium on protecting civilians and maximizing humanitarian assistance," Blinken said on Thursday.
The top US diplomat further said that their concerns are being discussed with Israeli officials on a regular basis, including in a conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the same day. Blinken's remarks came after three people were killed in an Israeli airstrike in central Gaza.
Meanwhile, Israeli forces said that they killed a number of gunmen in Khan Younis, including two who emerged and fired at IDF personnel from a tunnel. Continuous strikes in the southern Gaza town of Rafah have also sowed fear in one of the last places where civilians could seek refuge.
Massive destruction in Gaza
UN officials have said that there are no safe places for Palestinians to seek refuge as Israel seems intent on eliminating Hamas' 16-year-old rule in Gaza. The renewed fighting once again raised international alarm, as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres used a rarely exercised power to warn the Security Council of an impending “humanitarian catastrophe,” and Arab and Islamic nations called for a vote on Friday on a draft Council resolution demanding a humanitarian ceasefire.
Additionally, at least 100 Palestinian men are seen sitting in rows on a street in northern Gaza, stripped down to their underwear with their heads bowed as they are being guarded by Israeli troops. A journalist was among those detained and taken to an unknown location by Israeli forces.
Residents of Gaza said that a trickle of humanitarian aid being allowed amid the Israeli ground operations were met by hordes of hungry and exhausted families sheltered in UN schools. The area of Deir al-Balah is trapped between ground fighting in northern Gaza and in Khan Younis to the south, as 115 bodies arrived in Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital over the past 24 hours.
Moreover, the intense fighting has prevented aid groups from distributing beyond the Rafah area at Gaza's border with Egypt, resulting in only a handful of trucks reaching affected Palestinians. Rafah, normally home to around 280,000 people, is already hosting more than 470,000 who fled from other parts of Gaza.
More than 17,100 people in Gaza — 70% of them women and children — have been killed in the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip and wounded more than 46,000, according to the territory’s Health Ministry.
(with inputs from agencies)