US VP Harris calls for restraint as Israel strikes southern Gaza
GAZA/CAIRO — United States Vice President Kamala Harris said too many innocent Palestinians had been killed in Gaza as Israeli warplanes and artillery bombarded the enclave on Saturday following the collapse of a truce with Hamas militants.
Residents feared the barrages presaged an Israeli ground operation in the south of the Palestinian territory that would pen them into a shrinking area and possibly try to push them across into Egypt.
The Gaza health ministry said at least 193 Palestinians had been killed since the truce ended on Friday, December 1, adding to the more than 15,000 Palestinians dead since the start of the war. Israel has sworn to annihilate Hamas following its October 7 rampage in southern Israel in which it says 1,200 people were killed and more than 200 taken hostage.
Speaking in Dubai, Harris said Israel had a right to defend itself, but international and humanitarian law must be respected, and “too many innocent Palestinians have been killed.”
“Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering, and the images and videos coming from Gaza, are devastating,” Harris told reporters.
United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also weighed in on the need for Israel to protect Gaza civilians as a “moral responsibility” even as he said the US would remain its closest friend.
“The center of gravity is the civilian population,” he said. “And if you drive them into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was continuing to work in coordination with the U.S. and international organisations to define “safe areas” for Gaza civilians.
“This is important because we have no desire to harm the population,” Netanyahu told a news conference in Tel Aviv. “We have a very strong desire to hurt Hamas.”
Harris also sketched out a US vision for post-conflict Gaza, saying the international community must support recovery and Palestinian security forces must be strengthened.
“We want to see a unified Gaza and West Bank under the Palestinian Authority, and Palestinian voices and aspirations must be at the center of this work,” she said, adding that Hamas must no longer run Gaza.
The Western-backed Palestinian Authority governs parts of the occupied West Bank. Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ mainstream Fatah party and has ruled the enclave ever since.
Israel has vowed to wipe out Hamas once and for all. The Iranian-backed Islamist group is sworn to Israel’s destruction. One of its officials has said Hamas would repeat the October 7 attacks if possible.
The Israeli military said it had killed Wessam Farhat, commander of a Hamas battalion who sent fighters to hit two kibbutzim near the Gaza Strip on October 7. It also described him as one of the planners of the raid.
Israel seeks ‘security envelope’
Mark Regev, a senior adviser to Netanyahu, said Israel did not want to see Gaza’s civilians caught in the crossfire.
“Israel is targeting Hamas, a brutal terrorist organization that has committed the most horrific violence against innocent civilians. Israel is making a maximum effort to safeguard Gaza’s civilians,” Regev said.
He said that when the war was over, Israel would seek a “security envelope” with special zones and arrangements to prevent Hamas from being positioned on its border.