Is the US really pressuring Israel to limit Gaza civilian casualties?

Is the US really pressuring Israel to limit Gaza civilian casualties?
Some of Washington's actions appear to fly in the face of its public statements that Israel ought to limit civilian casualties in Gaza.
3 min read
04 December, 2023
US officials claim Israel has been receptive of its calls to limit civilian casualties [Israeli defence ministry/Handout/Anadolu via Getty]

Since 7 October, more than 15,500 people have been killed by Israeli air and ground attacks on Gaza, the overwhelming majority of them civilians. More than 6,000 those killed have been children.

With a temporary truce in Gaza now very much over, US officials have again called on Israel to limit civilian casualties in its brutal offensive on the besieged and bombed Palestinian territory - but are such calls just empty words?

Gaza deaths 'devastating'

Israel has said that its brutal bombardment is meant to eradicate Hamas, the Palestinian group controlling Gaza that conducted a large-scale attack on Israeli territory on October 7, which killed some 1,200 people.

It has claimed Hamas fighters embed themselves in the general population, so civilian deaths cannot be avoided.

In the latest call from Washington for civilian deaths to be limited, US Vice President Kamala Harris said Saturday that images from Gaza were "devastating".

"As Israel defends itself, it matters how. The United States is unequivocal: International humanitarian law must be respected," Harris said after meetings at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai.

"Too many innocent Palestinians have been killed. Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering and the images and videos coming from Gaza are devastating."

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Also on Saturday, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said that despite Israel engaging in "urban warfare" to fight Hamas in densely populated Gaza, civilian lives still had to be protected. 

"The lesson is not that you can win in urban warfare by protecting civilians. The lesson is that you can only win in urban warfare by protecting civilians," Austin said. 

US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby claimed Sunday that Israel had been receptive to its calls to limit civilian deaths.

"We believe they have been receptive to our messages here of trying to minimise civilian casualties," Kirby told ABC's 'This Week'.

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Speaking to NBC's 'Meet the Press' on the same subject, Kirby said: "What I can tell you is that in our conversations with them they have said that they agree with our idea here that the approach they take matters, that the reduction of civilian casualties and, quite frankly, minimising damage to civilian infrastructure is important to them, that they understand that."

700 dead in 24 hours 

Kirby's claims came hours after Gaza's Government Media Office said that Israel had killed 700 people in Gaza in just 24 hours.

The harrowing statistic came after a temporary ceasefire that lasted a week brought brief respite to Palestinians reeling from weeks of intensive bombing and a suffocating siege on the enclave, and appeared to show that Israel has only intensified its bombing of areas home to civilians.

The US says it is pushing for another temporary truce for Gaza - but it has previously voted against a permanent ceasefire in Gaza that would stop civilians from dying.

As Palestinians displaced from northern Gaza by Israel's air and ground operations continue to move south, US officials and spokespeople have urged Israel to take into account the increasing number of civilians in the southern half of the territory when conducting its bombings.

However, Israel continues to bomb urban centres in the south, claiming Hamas fighters have redeployed there.

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Aid and arms sales

Despite the scale of death and destruction in Gaza, Washington continues to supply Israel with the weapons it is killing civilians with.

While calling for Israel to "use smaller bombs" in its Gaza operations, it has sent Israel thousands of huge bombs since 7 October. 

It has also approved billions of dollars in aid for Israel since Tel Aviv launched its operation.

An increasing number of US lawmakers are backing calls for aid to Israel to be made conditional on it changing its tactics in Gaza and in the occupied West Bank, including significantly scaling back its bombardment of Gaza.

Washington said at the end of last month that such conditions were being considered.