Pentagon chief says civilian death toll in Gaza ‘far too high’

Lloyd Austin tells Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant that humanitarian aid reaching Palestinian enclave ‘far too low’.

'We need immediate increases in assistance to avert famine' in Gaza, says US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin [File: Thilo Schmuelgen/Reuters]

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has told his Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant that the civilian death toll is “far too high” in the Gaza Strip, a day after the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution demanding a ceasefire in the war-torn Palestinian enclave.

Speaking at the start of a meeting with Gallant on Tuesday in Washington, DC, Austin said the amount of humanitarian aid reaching Gaza also remains “far too low”.

“Gaza is suffering a humanitarian catastrophe, and the situation is getting even worse,” the Pentagon chief said.

“And we need immediate increases in assistance to avert famine, and our work to open a temporary humanitarian corridor by sea will help, but the key is still expanding aid deliveries by land.”

Israel has blocked the entry of critical humanitarian assistance to Gaza, prompting warnings that the Palestinian territory is facing “famine-like conditions”.

Gallant’s trip to the US capital also came as the UN Security Council voted on Monday in favour of a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, where more than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed since Israel launched its military offensive in early October.

US Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and his team hold talks with his Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant and his staff in Washington, DC
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin meets with Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, March 26 [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

The US abstained from that ceasefire vote instead of using its veto, a move that experts said highlighted President Joe Biden’s frustrations with the Israeli leadership, including most notably Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu slammed the Biden administration for failing to block the measure and rejected a planned visit to the US by an Israeli government delegation.

US and Israeli media outlets have reported that Gallant was travelling to Washington to request more expedited weapon shipments.

The Israeli defence minister said on Tuesday that he planned to discuss US-Israel cooperation to “ensure Israel’s military edge and capabilities” in his meeting with Austin.

Despite increased criticism of Israel’s policies in Gaza, US officials have stressed that they will continue to provide Israel with the weapons it needs for the war.

On Monday, the US Department of State said it had received “credible” assurances from Israel that US arms are not being used in violation of international humanitarian law.

That assessment outraged Palestinian rights advocates who have accused Israel of rampant abuses and genocide in the conflict.

On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters that the Biden administration had not yet reached a final conclusion on whether Israel has violated international humanitarian law in Gaza.

“But those are processes that are very much ongoing,” Miller said.

He added that the administration has to submit a report to Congress by May 8 in line with a US national security memorandum on how countries, including Israel, use American-supplied weapons.

Source: Al Jazeera