US urges Israel to avoid harming civilians in Gaza

US and other countries are anxious to prevent the war from spreading through the Middle East.

US and other countries are anxious to prevent the war from spreading through the Middle East. Photo: AAP

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has urged Israeli leaders to avoid harming civilians as it presses its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Blinken, making his fourth visit to the Middle East since the war between Hamas and Israel erupted in October, told Israel the creation of a Palestinian state was key to a long-term solution.

Even as he spoke, fighting was intense in south and central parts of the enclave.

Israeli forces and Hezbollah militants also exchanged fire on the Lebanon-Israel border.

International concern has mounted over the huge Palestinian death toll from the Israeli assault on the densely populated enclave as well as a humanitarian crisis afflicting hundreds of thousands of people.

The Israeli air and ground assault has now killed 23,210 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s health ministry, and obliterated large areas from north to south.

The US and other countries are anxious to prevent the war from spreading through the Middle East.

Blinken met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Tel Aviv’s Kirya military base, and then with Netanyahu’s war cabinet.

The US diplomat stressed “the importance of avoiding further civilian harm and protecting civilian infrastructure in Gaza,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

Blinken repeated the US administration’s support for Israel’s right to defend itself and to prevent a repeat of the October 7 attacks by Hamas on southern Israel which killed 1200 people and triggered the offensive on Gaza.

Israel has vowed to wipe out Hamas, which rules Gaza and is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told Blinken that Israel’s offensive in Gaza’s southern Khan Younis area will “intensify and continue until Hamas leadership is detected and Israeli hostages return home safely,” according to an Israeli defence ministry statement.

As well as trying to contain the war, Blinken has been discussing plans for future governance of Gaza when the war eventually ends.

In the meeting with Netanyahu, Blinken “reiterated the need to ensure lasting, sustainable peace for Israel and the region, including by the realisation of a Palestinian state,” the US State Department spokesman said.

In the days prior to his Israel visit, Blinken held talks in Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, focused on seeking a longer-term approach to the decades-long Israel-Palestinian conflict.

He said the Arab allies of the US wanted closer relations with Israel but only if that included a “practical pathway” to a Palestinian state.

US-brokered talks on a Palestinian state in territory occupied by Israel collapsed almost a decade ago.

Ultranationalist leaders in Israel’s current ruling coalition oppose Palestinian statehood.

With US support, Israel established diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in 2020 and was working to do the same with Saudi Arabia until the Gaza conflict broke out.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, speaking on Tuesday at a conference in Qatar, cited Israel’s normalisation of regional relations with Arab states “at the expense of the Palestinian cause” as one of the reasons for the October 7 attacks.

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