Austin heads to Israel as US urges transition to a more targeted approach in Gaza

AP , Monday 18 Dec 2023

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to press Israel to wind down major combat operations in Gaza on a visit Monday, in the latest test of whether Washington can leverage its unwavering support for the war to blunt its devastating impact on Palestinian civilians.

 Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testifies before a Senate Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill i
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testifies before a Senate Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP

 

France, the U.K., and Germany, some of Israel's closest allies, joined global calls for a cease-fire over the weekend, and Israeli protesters have demanded the government relaunch talks with the palestinian resistance group on releasing more captives after three were killed by Israeli troops while waving a white flag.

The U.S. has vetoed international calls for a cease-fire and rushed munitions to its close ally while pressing it to take greater steps to avoid harming civilians. The 10-week-old Israeli war on Gaza has killed over 18,700 Palestinians, two-thirds of them women and children, and transformed much of northern Gaza into a moonscape.

Some 1.9 million Palestinians — nearly 85% of Gaza's population — have fled their homes, with most packing into U.N.-run shelters and tent camps in the southern part of the besieged territory.

Austin, who is traveling with Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. CQ Brown, is expected to press Israeli leaders to transition to a more precise phase, with targeted operations aimed at killing Hamas leaders, destroying tunnels, and releasing captives.

Under U.S. pressure, Israel provided more precise evacuation instructions as troops moved into the southern city of Khan Younis earlier this month, though Palestinians and UN agencies say nowhere in Gaza is safe as Israel continues to carry out deadly strikes in all parts of the territory.

Israel reopened its main cargo crossing with Gaza to allow more aid into the territory — another U.S. request. But the amount entering is still less than half of prewar imports, even as needs have soared, and UN agencies say the fighting in the south hinders delivery in many areas.

 

U.S. defense leaders are hoping to prevent the risk of wider regional conflict, both through a sustained high level of U.S. military presence and by urging Israel to scale back operations. President Joe Biden has warned that Israel is losing international support because of its “indiscriminate bombing.”

 

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