‘Civilian death toll in Gaza too high’

Lloyd Austin tells Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant that humanitarian aid reaching Palestinian enclave ‘far too low’…reports Asian Lite News

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has told his Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant that the civilian death toll is “far too high” in the Gaza Strip, a day after the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution demanding a ceasefire in the war-torn Palestinian enclave.

Speaking at the start of a meeting with Gallant on Tuesday in Washington, DC, Austin said the amount of humanitarian aid reaching Gaza also remains “far too low”.

“Gaza is suffering a humanitarian catastrophe, and the situation is getting even worse,” the Pentagon chief said.

“And we need immediate increases in assistance to avert famine, and our work to open a temporary humanitarian corridor by sea will help, but the key is still expanding aid deliveries by land.”

Israel has blocked the entry of critical humanitarian assistance to Gaza, prompting warnings that the Palestinian territory is facing “famine-like conditions”.

Gallant’s trip to the US capital also came as the UN Security Council voted on Monday in favour of a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, where more than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed since Israel launched its military offensive in early October.

The US abstained from that ceasefire vote instead of using its veto, a move that experts said highlighted President Joe Biden’s frustrations with the Israeli leadership, including most notably Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu slammed the Biden administration for failing to block the measure and rejected a planned visit to the US by an Israeli government delegation.

US and Israeli media outlets have reported that Gallant was travelling to Washington to request more expedited weapon shipments.

The Israeli defence minister said on Tuesday that he planned to discuss US-Israel cooperation to “ensure Israel’s military edge and capabilities” in his meeting with Austin.

Despite increased criticism of Israel’s policies in Gaza, US officials have stressed that they will continue to provide Israel with the weapons it needs for the war. On Monday, the US Department of State said it had received “credible” assurances from Israel that US arms are not being used in violation of international humanitarian law.

That assessment outraged Palestinian rights advocates who have accused Israel of rampant abuses and genocide in the conflict.

On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters that the Biden administration had not yet reached a final conclusion on whether Israel has violated international humanitarian law in Gaza.

“But those are processes that are very much ongoing,” Miller said.

He added that the administration has to submit a report to Congress by May 8 in line with a US national security memorandum on how countries, including Israel, use American-supplied weapons.

‘Attack on Rafah not the way to defeat Hamas’

The US has again urged Israel to abandon plans for a major ground operation in Rafah, where more than 1.5 million displaced Palestinians are hemmed in after months of fighting in Gaza.

“We share Israel’s goal of defeating Hamas,” US ambassador Robert Wood told the UN Security Council on Tuesday, “but a major military ground operation in Rafah is not the way to do it.

“It risks killing more civilians, it risks wreaking greater havoc with the provision of humanitarian assistance. And so our advice to Israel is, there is a better way.”

Wood also said Washington is working to dramatically step up humanitarian aid into Gaza, “where not enough assistance is reaching civilians in need.”

He said: “The reality is that children are starving to death because humanitarian assistance can’t reach them. Children should not be dying of malnutrition in Gaza, or anywhere else for that matter. A 100 percent of the population of Gaza is experiencing severe levels of acute food insecurity.”

After 170 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas, the UN Security Council on Monday adopted Resolution 2728, calling for a cessation of hostilities during the holy month, leading “to a lasting, sustainable ceasefire.”

In addition, the resolution calls for Hamas and other militant groups to release all hostages taken on Oct. 7.

It also demands that all involved in the conflict “comply with their obligations under international law in relation to all persons they detain,” and emphasizes “the urgent need to expand the flow of humanitarian assistance to, and reinforce the protection of civilians in, the entire Gaza Strip.”

The resolution reiterates a demand for the lifting of “all barriers to the provision of humanitarian assistance at scale.” Wood expressed regret that the resolution failed to condemn the Hamas terror attack on Oct. 7, and “its sexual violence.”

“There is no excuse, let me repeat, no excuse for the Security Council’s failure to condemn Hamas’ terrorism. This council needs to condemn Hamas,” he said.

Guyana’s Deputy Permanent Representative Stephanie Savory told the council that “from all indications, yesterday’s resolution is not being adhered to.”

ALSO READ: Gaza Bloodshed Continues Despite UNSC Resolution

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