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US says Israel must distinguish between Hamas and Gaza civilians

WASHINGTON – Israel must protect innocent Gaza residents by distinguishing between Hamas militants and civilians, the White House warned Sunday as President Joe Biden promised a significant increase in aid to the Palestinian territory.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have been urged to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza. Health officials in that Hamas-run territory say more than 8,000 people — half of them children — have already died in three weeks of air strikes conducted in retaliation for the deadly Hamas attacks into Israel on October 7.

Biden discussed protection of civilian lives in a phone call Sunday with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in which the two leaders “committed to the significant acceleration and increase of assistance flowing into Gaza beginning today and then continuously,” according to a readout from the White House.

The call came as the Biden administration emphasized the need to protect civilian lives amid the ongoing conflict.

“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,” US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on CNN talk show “State of the Union.”

Biden delivered a message to Netanyahu himself Sunday when the two spoke on a call to discuss developments in Gaza.

During the conversation, Biden “underscored the need to immediately and significantly increase the flow of humanitarian assistance to meet the needs of civilians in Gaza,” according to a readout of the conversation from the White House.

“The president reiterated that Israel has every right and responsibility to defend its citizens from terrorism and underscored the need to do so in a manner consistent with international humanitarian law that prioritizes the protection of civilians,” the readout said.

But Sullivan emphasized on CNN that “we do believe that thousands of Palestinian civilians have been killed in this bombardment, and every single one of those deaths is a tragedy.”

Speaking on ABC’s “This Week” as he made a round of Sunday talk shows, Sullivan added that Hamas, a “brutal terrorist organization,” is “hiding behind the civilian population.”

Hamas has been using civilians as “human shields” and putting rockets and other “terrorist infrastructure” in civilian areas, he said.

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

The national security advisor also said that US officials are working to help secure the release of more than 220 hostages being held in Gaza by Hamas, as well as to help the hundreds of Palestinian Americans stuck in Gaza.

“Many of them are still there, still waiting to get out, and we are working actively to try to make that happen,” Sullivan told CBS show “Face the Nation.”

But he said that while neighboring Egypt and Israel are prepared to let Americans and other foreign nationals leave Gaza, “Hamas is preventing their departure.”

The latest violence began on October 7 when Hamas militants stormed across the Gaza border in the deadliest attack in Israel’s history, killing 1,400 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli officials.

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