Israel Palestine Conflict

Washington shifts tone on Israel ahead of expected south Gaza onslaught

“You cannot have the sort of scale of displacement that took place in the north replicated in the south,” senior US administration official says

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With the US coming under heavy criticism for its role in the Israeli military campaign against Hamas, which has resulted in the death of thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians in northern Gaza, the Biden administration has made one point clear as Israel launches the next phase of its operations to decimate Hamas: The scale of Israeli operations in the north cannot and must not be replicated in the south. This revised US stance came just ahead of the end of a temporary truce as Israel relaunched dozens of airstrikes across the Gaza Strip on Friday morning.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have sought shelter in the south in areas Israel deemed as safe zones. During the truce, the Israeli military had also prevented Gazans from returning to their homes in the northern part of the enclave. Following the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel – one of the deadliest in its history – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government vowed to wipe out Hamas and eliminate its top officials. In view of that, Washington rushed in support by sending weapons and deploying fighter jets and aircraft carriers to the Middle East to deter more potential fronts against Israel.

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US officials, concerned about escalation from Iran-backed proxies in the region, did not hold back on voicing their full-throated support for any Israeli action deemed necessary to respond to the Hamas attack.

In the meantime, Israel called on Gazans to flee to Egypt. After Cairo and the Arab world vehemently rejected this proposal and the forced displacement of Palestinians, Israel told them to go to southern Gaza.

The seven-day ceasefire, which began on November 24 and was extended twice, had allowed for the exchange of dozens of hostages held in Gaza for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and facilitated the entry of humanitarian aid into the shattered coastal strip.

Now that Israel has resumed its military campaign, after reducing north Gaza to rubble, an attack on the southern part looks imminent.

Palestinians walk at the site of Israeli strikes on houses, in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip November, 21, 2023. (Reuters)
Palestinians walk at the site of Israeli strikes on houses, in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip November, 21, 2023. (Reuters)

Washington is pressing Israel to alter its tactics as it begins bombarding south Gaza with Hamas leaders believed to be using Gazans as human shields now in the south.

Prevent further displacement

Pointing to the estimated two million people in south and central Gaza, a senior Biden administration official said that Israel needed to find a way to prevent further displacement of people.

“You cannot have the sort of scale of displacement that took place in the north replicated in the south,” the official said during a call with reporters earlier this week.

“It will be beyond disruptive. It can’t happen, which means that the manner of the campaign has to be extremely carefully thought through to minimize this consequence of further, significant displacement.”

The official added that Israel “has” to carry out its mission in a way that “is maximally deconflicted with humanitarian facilities.”

Israel had cut off power and water to Gazans in the days after October 7.

US officials have said they’ve relayed these messages to Israel, who they say have been receptive.

“There is an understanding that a different type of campaign has to be conducted in the south than what was conducted in the north,” the senior US administration official added.

Following Israeli advice, now that Gazans are ready to move to the south, Washington has questioned where exactly these Gazans are supposed to go.

Blinken rejects forced displacement

Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Egyptian counterpart that the US rejects forced displacement of Palestinians.

On Thursday, during a trip to Tel Aviv, further ramping up his rhetoric, Blinken told reporters: “I underscore the imperative of the United States that the massive loss of civilian life and displacement of the scale that we saw in northern Gaza not be repeated in the south.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to reporters prior to a meeting with Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, not pictured, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. Blinken told Israeli leaders on November 30 that a temporary truce in their war with Hamas was producing results and should continue. (AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to reporters prior to a meeting with Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, not pictured, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. Blinken told Israeli leaders on November 30 that a temporary truce in their war with Hamas was producing results and should continue. (AP)

Despite the hardened stance and handful of voices from within Biden’s Democratic Party to condition military aid to Israel, Washington is unlikely to reduce or alter this assistance.

However, its stance among partners and allies, including Arab states, has been badly harmed after Washington was accused of double standards. US officials strongly condemned the killing of women, children and innocent civilians in Ukraine in stark contrast to the massacre of Gazans.

In addition to protecting civilians and carrying out more precision-guided attacks, Israel is being called upon to increase the flow of humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza.

Violence in the West Bank

On the sidelines of the fighting in Gaza, Israeli settlers have ramped up their attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank. This is something that US officials, including the top US diplomat and Pentagon chief, have made clear to Israelis needs to change.

While Biden threatened sanctions against Israeli extremist settlers in a recent op-ed, Blinken slammed the violence in the West Bank during his meetings with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Blinken told Abbas that the US would insist on full accountability for those responsible for “extremist violence” against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank. He told Netanyahu that Israel needed to take steps to hold settler extremists accountable for this violence.

Read more:

American officials growing frustrated with Israel over civilian death toll in Gaza

US reputation stands battered after Biden’s Gaza carte blanche for Israel

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