U.S. Asks Israel to Avoid Civilian Displacements in South Gaza Offensive

WASHINGTON (Reuters) —
A dove flies over the remains of a house destroyed in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, Tuesday. (REUTERS/Saleh Salem)

The U.S. is asking Israel to take greater care to protect civilians and limit damage to infrastructure if it launches an offensive in southern Gaza to avoid further displacements that would overwhelm humanitarian efforts, senior U.S. officials said.

As Israel begins to look toward south Gaza to continue battling Hamas after a pause in fighting to release hostages, U.S. officials said they have been talking to the Israelis about taking greater care in the south.

The message has been delivered from President Joe Biden on down, the officials told reporters on a conference call.

“We have reinforced this in very clear language with the government of Israel – very important that the conduct of the Israeli campaign when it moves to the south must be done in a way that is to a maximum extent not designed to produce significant further displacement of persons,” one official said.

“You cannot have the sort of scale of displacement that took place in the north, replicated in the south. It will be beyond disruptive, it will be beyond the capacity of any humanitarian support network,” the official said, adding that “it can’t happen.”

The official said the campaign needed to be “deconflicted” from power, water, humanitarian sites and hospitals in south and central Gaza, meaning avoiding attacks on those types of infrastructure sites.

He said the Israelis had been receptive to the notion “that a different type of campaign has to be conducted in the south.”

A second U.S. official said Washington would like to see the humanitarian pause extended as long as possible.

The official said the first of three relief aid flights conducted by the U.S. military would land in northern Sinai on Tuesday carrying supplies for Gaza, with two more planned in coming days. The flights would bring medical items, food aid and winter items that would be delivered by the United Nations.

The officials said aid deliveries to Gaza were currently running at about 240 truckloads a day, but this was nowhere near enough to meet needs. They said the effort would need to turn to commercial contracts to get deliveries up to 400 trucks a day and the U.S. side had been discussing this with Israel.

“To get that volume of assistance, inspection procedures will need to be increased and enhanced and you’re going to need to resort to commercial contracting within Gaza to meet the trucks coming in from Egypt,” the first official said.

“We hope that after this pause concludes that can be phase two of the humanitarian program,” he said.

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