US tells UN: Israel undermines goals with civilian harm in Gaza

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By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Israel must do more to protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza and should “remove all barriers to the flow of aid at scale through all crossings and routes” into the enclave, the United States told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday.

“The continued pattern of significant civilian harm resulting from incidents like Sunday’s airstrikes undermines Israel’s strategic goals in Gaza,” deputy U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Robert Wood told the 15-member council.

An attack on Sunday set off a blaze in a tent camp in a designated humanitarian zone of Rafah in southern Gaza, killing at least 45 people. Israel – a U.S. ally – said it had targeted Hamas militants and had not intended to harm civilians.

Algeria on Tuesday put forward a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that essentially orders Israel to “immediately halt its military offensive” in Rafah. On Wednesday, Wood told reporters that Washington was reviewing it, but U.N. action was unlikely to be helpful or change the situation on the ground.

The draft text also cites a ruling by the International Court of Justice on May 24 that ordered Israel to immediately halt its military assault on Rafah, in a landmark emergency ruling in South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide.

Wood said the ruling echoed the U.S. position that Israel must avoid a major military operation in Rafah that would put huge numbers of civilians at risk. The U.S. said on Tuesday that Israel’s actions in Rafah did not amount to a major ground operation that could change U.S. policy toward Israel.

“We continue to believe there are alternatives to a major operation that would better advance Israel’s goal of the enduring defeat of Hamas and also protect innocent Palestinians,” said Wood.

Israel has been fighting to eradicate Hamas, which rules Gaza, since a cross-border Oct. 7 attack by militants in which some 1,200 people were killed and over 250 taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. Nearly 130 hostages are believed to remain captive in Gaza.

Gaza health authorities say more than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war in the past seven months. Israel says it wants to root out the last major intact formations of Hamas fighters hunkered down in Rafah and rescue hostages.

“Israel has a right to defend itself against Hamas. But Israel also has obligations to protect civilians,” Wood said. “The fact that Hamas leaders and fighters hide among civilians does not lessen the requirement for Israel to conduct its operations in accordance with international humanitarian law.”

Humanitarian aid access to Gaza has been extremely limited since Israel began its military operation in Rafah, the U.N. has said, with famine looming in the enclave of 2.3 million people.

“More must be done to ensure more aid is getting into Gaza through all routes and is able to be safely distributed to those in need throughout Gaza,” Wood said.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Paul Grant and Mark Heinrich)

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