As Israel widens its war in Gaza, now in its third deadly month, Biden administration officials are struggling to shore up support for the government of Benjamin Netanyahu even as it appears to ignore U.S. advice and Arab anger worldwide mounts.
In New York at the United Nations and in Washington, where a high-level delegation of six Arab states or entities held meetings with U.S. leaders, calls for a cease-fire sounded louder than ever on Friday, leaving the U.S. standing all but alone in its opposition.
That despite what U.S. officials now acknowledge is Israel's reticence to heed repeated pleas from President Biden and others in his administration to minimize civilian casualties as Israeli tanks, troops and air power pound parts of southern Gaza, where more than a million Palestinians fleeing the north have taken precarious refuge.
In his most direct public criticism of Israel to date, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said there was a "gap" between what Israel pledged to do and its actions in southern Gaza, which have steadily increased the death toll.
"As we stand here almost a week into this campaign into the south, ... it remains imperative that Israel put a premium on civilian protection," Blinken said Thursday. "And there does remain a gap between … the intent to protect civilians and the actual results that we're seeing on the ground."
Blinken has made four trips to Israel since the Oct. 7 attacks that Hamas militants inflicted on southern Israel, killing around 1,200 mostly civilians, kidnapping another 250 and committing torture and other atrocities, according to Israeli officials.
Israel's retaliation, with the stated goal of destroying Hamas, has leveled entire neighborhoods and killed more than 17,000 Palestinians, nearly three-quarters of them women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. About 90 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the fighting, Israel says.
Despite his intense and often rancorous talks with Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials, Blinken has only been able to eke out limited concessions. These have included the entry of some food, water and small amounts of fuel into the besieged Gaza Strip.
Israeli officials also agreed to a brief humanitarian pause — not a cease-fire, which Israel maintains Hamas would use to regroup — and for a week, fighting stopped, aid entered and 100 hostages were freed. But it collapsed last Friday, with each side accusing the other of violating the agreement. The U.S. blames Hamas, saying it refused to release a last group of mostly young female hostages.
Blinken's most recent ask of the Israelis, delivered during meetings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem last week, was that the devastation of the northern section of Gaza not be repeated with the offensive in the south, and that Israel fulfill the requirement of international law to take better precautions to avoid civilian casualties.
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