US urges Israel to scale down Gaza offensive, 'be more careful with civilians'

US urges Israel to scale down Gaza offensive, 'be more careful with civilians'
The US has asked Israel 'hard questions' about its offensive in Gaza. Both sides discussed how long such attacks could last amid rising civilian casualties.
3 min read
15 December, 2023
Israel has left swathes of Gaza in complete ruins, killing close to 18,800 people, mostly civilians [Getty]

The United States told Israel on Wednesday to scale down its war on Hamas in Gaza in the "near future," with President Joe Biden urging it to take more care to save civilian lives in Gaza.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan made the call during talks in Tel Aviv with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior officials to discuss the war on Gaza.

Washington has expressed unwavering support for Israel, claiming it had "the right to defend itself," but mounting civilian casualties in the Palestinian territory have caused a growing rift between the close allies.

Israel's unprecedented bombardment has killed close to 18,800 people, most of them 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 after an event at a medical research center near Washington.

The White House said earlier that Sullivan, Biden's top national security aide, had pushed Israel on the timing of the war after Israel's defense minister told him that the conflict would last several more months.

Sullivan "did talk about possible transitioning from what we would call high-intensity operations, which is what we're seeing them do now, to lower intensity operations sometime in the near future," spokesman John Kirby said.

"But I don't want to put a timestamp on it."

Kirby said that Washington was "not dictating terms" to Israel but that Sullivan had asked "hard questions" about the course of the offensive, while still backing Israel.

"I think we all want it to end as soon as possible," Kirby told reporters, adding that the war "could end today" if Hamas backed down but "that doesn't look likely right now."

'Destroy them'

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant had warned Sullivan that Israel's fight with Hamas "will require a period of time - it will last more than several months, but we will win and we will destroy them."

Sullivan also visited Saudi Arabia for on Wednesday for talks with the country's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the White House said.

They discussed "ongoing efforts to create new conditions for an enduring and sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians" and increasing aid to Gaza, it said.

Biden issued his strongest criticism yet of Israel on Tuesday, warning that Israel risked losing global support over "indiscriminate bombing."

A defiant Netanyahu has however vowed to carry on "until victory" and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said the war would continue "with or without international support".

The war, now in its third month, began on the day of Hamas' October 7 attacks in southern Israel that Israeli officials say killed about 1,200 people.

Israel has since launched an unrelenting military offensive that has left swathes of Gaza in ruins. The health ministry in the territory said 18,787 people have been killed, mostly women and children.