Israel Palestine Conflict

US officials urge Israel to exercise caution in southern Gaza operations

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The United States is urging Israel to narrow the zone of combat and clarify where Palestinian civilians can seek safety during any Israeli operation in southern Gaza, US officials said on Wednesday, to prevent a repeat of the massive death toll from Israel’s northern Gaza attacks.

US officials from President Joe Biden on down, including in the State Department and Pentagon, are pleading with Israel to take a more cautious approach if and when the Israeli military extends its offensive to southern Gaza.

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Two-thirds of the enclave’s population of 2.3 million have fled south to avoid the war zone in the north.

Israel’s operation in the north drew strong international criticism and Biden has taken fire at home for his sweeping support for Israel.

Washington understands Israel’s desire to root out Hamas militants in southern Gaza but believes greater caution is needed in the heavily populated area, said two US officials who provided some details of the advice being given.

Many of the lead architects of the Hamas attacks in southern Israel on Oct. 7, in which 1,200 people were killed, are in the south, one official noted.

“But given that hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled to the south, at Israel’s request, we believe Israel should only move forward after operational planning has accounted for the presence of many more innocents,” the official said.

Planning should include drawing lessons from the operations conducted in the north to enhance protections for innocent civilians, “including things like narrowing the zone of combat and clarifying areas where civilians can seek refuge,” the official said.

The second official said that when Israel was planning its offensive in northern Gaza, US officials advised the Israelis to use a smaller force than planned, and be careful in terms of tactics, movements, unit size and rules of engagement.

“They are still in the planning phase for the south. We are urging them to factor this into their planning,” the official said.

Both officials said the US would like the Israelis to make sure they know where civilians are situated, focus on high-value precision targets and make sure they are going after specific locations rather than indiscriminate strikes.

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