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Defense Secretary Austin: US and Israel Have an ‘Urgent Duty’ to Safeguard Palestinian Civilians

Secretary of Defense stated that Washington is committed to bringing back all hostages held by Hamas and will not stop until that mission is accomplished.

On March 26, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin emphasized the “moral imperative” and “shared strategic interest” of Israel and the United States in safeguarding Palestinian civilians amidst the conflict in Gaza.

During a meeting with Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant at the Pentagon, they discussed various issues, including military operations in Rafah, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and threats to regional security.

Referring to Hamas’s incursion into Israel on Oct. 7 as a significant event, Mr. Austin condemned the act and stated that no country should endure such terror.

He reiterated Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas and highlighted the joint goal of defeating the terrorist group.

The commitment to bring back all hostages held by Hamas was also reiterated by Mr. Austin.

However, concerns were raised about the high number of civilian casualties in Gaza due to Israel’s military operations against Hamas.

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Mr. Austin stated that the aim is to enhance safety and security in Israel and the region, emphasizing the importance of protecting Palestinian civilians from harm.

Gaza Suffering ‘Humanitarian catastrophe’

Describing Gaza as facing a humanitarian catastrophe, Mr. Austin stressed the urgent need for increased assistance to prevent famine and alleviate the worsening situation in the region.

He urged Israel to exercise restraint in launching a major offensive in Rafah, where a large number of Palestinian civilians are seeking shelter.

The Biden administration has been advising Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to delay the offensive in Rafah until a plan for the safe evacuation of civilians is formulated, fearing a potential humanitarian crisis and mass casualties.

Israeli authorities argue that Rafah, believed to be a stronghold of Hamas, must be targeted to fully eliminate the terrorist group from Gaza.

The recent meeting between Mr. Austin and Mr. Gallant reflects months of close cooperation between the two leaders, demonstrating unwavering U.S. support for Israel’s long-term security, according to a Pentagon press release.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, in Jerusalem, on Feb. 18, 2024. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, in Jerusalem, on Feb. 18, 2024. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

Netanyahu Cancels Delegation

Mounting criticism of Israel’s actions in Gaza led to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceling the delegation planned to visit Washington. This decision came after the United States chose to abstain from a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a temporary ceasefire in Gaza to facilitate the return of hostages, a move that Mr. Netanyahu opposed.

Although the resolution was passed due to the U.S. abstention, Mr. Netanyahu expressed disappointment over Washington’s shift in stance, believing it could embolden Hamas to seek a ceasefire without releasing the hostages held by Israel.

The White House defended its abstention, stating that the resolution lacked crucial language condemning Hamas, which led to the decision not to support it.

Despite tensions between Mr. Netanyahu and President Biden, the United States continues to provide military support to Israel without any conditions.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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