On Saturday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made his strongest statements yet about the need for Israel to protect civilians in Gaza, describing them as the center of gravity in Israel’s war with Hamas and warning of the dangers of their extremism, according to what Reuters reported.
“In this type of combat, the center of gravity is the civilian population,” Austin said. “If you push them into the enemy’s arms, you will replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat.”
Relying on his experience as a four-star general who fought the battle against ISIS, he added, “Therefore, I have always made clear to Israel’s leaders that protecting Palestinian civilians in Gaza is a moral responsibility and a strategic necessity.”
Austin said in statements during the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, that he personally urges Israeli leaders to avoid civilian deaths and injuries, stop “irresponsible rhetoric,” and prevent settler violence in the West Bank.
He added that he also urges Israel to significantly expand the scope of humanitarian aid entering Gaza, adding that he expects more aid to be delivered “in the coming days.”
Austin’s statements come in light of the Israeli warplanes and artillery bombing of the Gaza Strip on Saturday.
The United States confirmed the provision of military aid to Israel, including air defenses and other munitions.
Austin pledged that the United States would stand with Israel, noting Israel’s commitment to respond after the Hamas attack on October 7, and describing Hamas as a “brutal enemy.”
“The United States will remain Israel’s closest friend in the world,” Austin told an audience of prominent US lawmakers, national security officials and defense executives. “Our support for Israel’s security is non-negotiable.”
Austin also renewed calls for the United States to establish two states to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He continued, “Without prospects of hope, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will continue to be a driver of instability, insecurity, and human suffering.”
As the war between Israel and Hamas escalates tensions in the region, the Pentagon faces wave after wave of attacks on American forces by Iranian-backed groups that blame the United States for Israel’s actions in Gaza.
Washington has repeatedly stressed that its recent military decisions in the region have nothing to do with the ongoing conflict in Gaza.
Austin accused Iran of “inflaming tensions” and referred to recent US air strikes in response to Iran.
Austin said: “We will not tolerate attacks on American military personnel. Therefore, these attacks must stop.”
On Saturday, Israel intensified its bombing of the Gaza Strip for the second day in a row after the end of the truce with Hamas, while its Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, decided to return the Mossad intelligence team from Qatar after reaching a “dead end” in negotiations with the movement.
The Israeli army confirmed on Saturday that it had bombed “more than 400 terrorist targets” in the Gaza Strip, noting that its warplanes had struck “more than 50 targets in an intense attack in the Khan Yunis area.”
He explained that he targeted the “northern Gaza Strip” with artillery and raids, in particular “terrorist cells” and “the mosque used by the Islamic Jihad movement as an operational command center” and a “weapons depot” in addition to killing a “Hamas battalion commander”, while Hamas confirmed the launch Rockets hit Tel Aviv and sirens sounded across central Israel.
The Hamas Ministry of Health announced on Saturday that the Israeli bombardment from land, sea and air since Friday morning had killed at least 240 people and injured more than 650 others, noting that it focused on the city of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, bringing the total number of casualties since the start of the conflict to more. Of 15,200 people in the Gaza Strip, according to the health authorities in the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli raids come in response to the attack launched by Hamas on October 7, which claimed the lives of 1,200 people, according to the Israeli authorities, and during which the movement kidnapped more than 200 people.
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