US urges Israel to change tactics in Gaza | Mint

US urges Israel to change tactics in Gaza

The US is asking Israel to designate areas near UN facilities or other infrastructure as havens for civilians that Israeli forces would seek to avoid. (Photo: AFP)
The US is asking Israel to designate areas near UN facilities or other infrastructure as havens for civilians that Israeli forces would seek to avoid. (Photo: AFP)

Summary

Biden administration officials want civilians protected and are pushing for precision strikes.

WASHINGTON—The U.S. is pressing Israel to modify its plans for the next phase of its campaign in Gaza to better protect civilians and rebut criticism that the White House has given Israeli forces carte blanche to wage its war with Hamas.

The U.S. push to have Israel fight a more targeted war signals a shift away from President Biden’s full-throated support at the outset for the campaign to oust Hamas, and is the focus of intensive consultations between President Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on how to handle the conflict—one that Washington has worked with Arab allies to prevent from broadening beyond Gaza. -

While still backing Israel’s objective to destroy Hamas, the U.S. is hoping to minimize the bloodshed, even as Hamas operates from civilian areas. The number of civilian deaths—more than 15,000 Palestinians, the majority of them women and children—has alarmed some Democratic lawmakers and part of President Biden’s political base.

That death toll, based on figures provided by health authorities in Gaza, doesn’t distinguish between civilians and militants.

The Biden administration is urging Israelis to conduct airstrikes with precision munitions when the fighting resumes, while ensuring civilian infrastructure such as hospitals and electrical and sewage networks aren’t targeted, U.S. officials say.

The restraint the U.S. is now pushing came as Israel’s leadership is signaling it will resume the campaign once the cease-fire that was extended until Thursday ends.

“We are preparing for the next stages of the war, and for expanding the maneuver in the Gaza Strip as a whole," Benny Gantz, a former defense minister who is a member of the war cabinet, said Tuesday.

There will be no “refuge for terrorists and Hamas leaders," Gantz said.

In addition to pushing for more targeted airstrikes, the Biden administration has rebuffed Israel’s plan to move much of Gaza’s civilian population to a narrow “safe zone" in the al-Mawasi stretch near the coast, according to a senior administration official.

“You cannot have the sort of scale of displacement that took place in the north replicated in the south," the senior administration official said Monday. “It will be beyond disruptive. It will be beyond the capacity of any humanitarian support network, however reinforced."

United Nations officials have argued the area is too small and barren to accommodate many thousands of civilians who have already been uprooted. At least 1.7 million people of Gaza’s two million people have been displaced by the conflict, according to the U.N.

U.S. officials said Tuesday that they believed the Israelis have begun to back off that safe-zone plan.

Instead, the U.S. is asking Israel to designate areas near U.N. facilities or other protected infrastructure as havens for civilians that Israeli forces would seek to avoid. The U.S. is also urging that humanitarian aid continue to flow to the approximately two million beleaguered Gazan civilians even once military operations restart.

U.S. officials have also sought to persuade the Israelis to conduct their operation in phases, which could facilitate the release of hostages as the invasion unfolds, another senior administration official said.

Israel has used this approach in recent weeks, and U.S. officials pointed to this as an example of how the military there has responded to American advice.

In this way, the Israeli military could pause for a period of time to allow hostages to be released without losing any ground until they resumed their operations against Hamas.

An Israeli official said his government is “very attentive to the U.S. perspective," but declined to provide details of which tactics Israeli might embrace.

Israeli officials have signaled they remain determined to eliminate Hamas’s hold on Gaza and destroy the group.

Carrying out that strategy while balancing the need to reduce civilian harm could prove difficult if Hamas leaders flee into civilian areas that Israeli forces had initially sought to sidestep.

Write to Michael R. Gordon at michael.gordon@wsj.com, Gordon Lubold at gordon.lubold@wsj.com and William Mauldin at william.mauldin@wsj.com

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