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US says burden on Israel to distinguish between Hamas, Gaza civilians

WASHINGTON – Israel must protect innocent Gaza residents by distinguishing between Hamas militants and civilians in the Palestinian territory, the White House warned Sunday ahead of a call between President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel’s military has been urged to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza, where health officials in the Hamas-run territory say more than 8,000 people have already died in three weeks of air strikes that Israel has conducted in retaliation for Hamas’s unprecedented deadly attacks on October 7.

“There is a burden, as I said before and as the president has said, on Israel to take the necessary steps to distinguish between Hamas, who does not represent the Palestinian people, and innocent Palestinian civilians” in Gaza, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on CNN talk show “State of the Union.”

“We do believe that thousands of Palestinian civilians have been killed in this bombardment, and every single one of those deaths is a tragedy,” just as those in Israel are, Sullivan said.

“What we believe is that every hour, every day of this military operation, the IDF, the Israeli government, should be taking every possible means available to them to distinguish between Hamas — terrorists who are legitimate military targets — and civilians who are not.”

Sullivan, speaking on ABC’s “This Week” as he made a round of Sunday talk shows, said Hamas, “this brutal terrorist organization that conducted the attack, is hiding behind the civilian population — which puts an added burden on Israel to differentiate between the terrorists and innocent civilians.

“But it doesn’t lessen their responsibility under international humanitarian law and the laws of war to do all in their power to protect the civilian population.”

Sullivan said the White House has been communicating its position to Israeli officials at the highest levels, and will do so in a Biden-Netanyahu call.

“The president will speak again with the prime minister in a few hours’ time today, and he will continue to reiterate the United States’ position on this issue.”

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