Mostly Clear
86 ° F
Full Weather
Sponsored By:

US condemns loss of life, but says no policy changes after civilian deaths in Israeli strike

Sponsored by:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House on Tuesday condemned the loss of life of dozens of civilians as a result of an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, but said it is not planning any policy changes as a result of the Israeli actions.

National security spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Israel had not violated President Joe Biden’s “red line” for withholding future offensive arms transfers because it has not, and it appears to the U.S. that it will not, launch a full-scale ground invasion into the city in southern Gaza.

“Everything that we can see tells us that they are not moving into a major ground operation in population centers in the center of Rafah,” Kirby said. Most of those killed in the Sunday strike were sheltering in tents.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a “tragic mishap” was made in carrying out the airstrike, adding to the surging international criticism Israel has faced over its war with Hamas, with even its closest allies expressing outrage at civilian deaths.

Biden and his top advisers have repeatedly warned the Israelis against carrying out widescale operations in Rafah without a plan to secure the safety of innocent civilians. But the administration made clear that it would not move — at least not immediately — to curtail any support for Israel as a result of the strike.

But other global leaders were sharper in their condemnation.

President Emmanuel Macron used social media to say that “these operations must stop.” The Foreign Ministry of Germany called the images of the strike “unbearable” and said the “civilian population must finally be better protected.” And Qatar, a key mediator in attempts to secure a cease-fire and the release of hostages held by Hamas, said the Rafah strike could “complicate” talks.

The incident came two days after the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to end its military offensive in Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people had sought shelter before Israel’s incursion earlier this month. Tens of thousands of people remain in the area, while many others have fled.

Kirby said Biden’s “not making decisions based on popularity or public opinion polls here or around the world,” but acknowledged it wasn’t in the U.S. interest or “our Israeli partner’s interest for them to become further isolated” on the world stage.

He called the loss of life “heartbreaking” and “horrific,” and said “we certainly condemn the loss of life here.” He added that the U.S. was monitoring the results of an Israeli investigation into the strike, which suggested the civilian deaths were the result of a secondary explosion after a successful strike on two Hamas operatives.

“We understand that this strike did kill two senior Hamas heads who are directly responsible for attacks,” Kirby said. “We’ve also said many times Israel must take every precaution possible to do more to protect innocent life.”

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters that Israel’s weeks-old offensive in Rafah was still on a “far different” scale than the assaults Israeli forces waged on other cities in Gaza earlier in the seven-month war against Hamas. The U.S. had urged Israel not to replicate those earlier attacks in Rafah, given the vulnerable civilians crowded there.

Miller said he had no direct knowledge of reported accounts from witnesses on the ground Tuesday that Israeli tanks had entered the center of Gaza, and noted Israel had denied responsibility for a new Israeli strike outside of Rafah on Tuesday that Gaza health officials said killed more than 20 people.

Asked whether the strike would result in any U.S. policy changes, Kirby said, “I have no policy changes to speak to.”

Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said she did not know whether it was a U.S.-provided weapon that was used in the deadly Sunday strike that killed the dozens of civilians at a displacement camp. “I do not know what type of ammunition was used in that airstrike,” Singh said. “I have to refer you to the Israelis to speak to that.”

The Israelis have said they used small-diameter precision munitions in the attack and have suggested that a secondary explosion caused the number of civilian deaths. Singh said the U.S. has not paused shipments to Israel in the wake of the strike. “Security assistance continues to flow,” Singh said.

Still, Kirby said the incident reflected the challenge of conducting military operations in densely populated areas like Rafah, a concern that Biden and his top advisers have repeatedly raised with the Israelis.

“There’s going to be an investigation. They’ve already said it was a tragic mistake,” he added. “They’re looking into it. They have been able to investigate themselves and hold people accountable in the past. We’ll see what they do here.”

___

AP writers Tara Copp and Ellen Knickmeyer contributed.

By AAMER MADHANI
Associated Press

Feedback