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Protecting Palestinians a moral imperative, Pentagon chief tells Israeli counterpart

Reuters – U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Tuesday it was a moral and strategic imperative to protect Palestinian civilians in the war between Israel and Hamas and that the humanitarian catastrophe in besieged Gaza was getting worse.

Austin was speaking during a meeting with Israel Defense Minister Yoav Gallant at the Pentagon as relations between U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sank to a wartime low.

“In Gaza today, the number of civilian casualties is far too high and the amount of humanitarian aid is far too low,” Austin said, sitting across from Gallant, a key architect of the military campaign against Hamas in response to the militants’ Oct. 7 cross-border rampage that Israel says killed 1,200 people.

“Gaza is suffering a humanitarian catastrophe and the situation is getting even worse,” Austin said, using some of his most forceful language so far.

The Pentagon later said Austin’s discussion with Gallant was frank and direct.

The Israeli defense minister also met for a second day with U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who told Gallant that Israel needs to increase the flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza, White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Gallant later held talks with CIA Director William Burns, recently returned from talks in Qatar seeking an elusive deal for Hamas’ release of more than 130 hostages still held in Gaza.

Speaking to reporters, Gallant, apparently seeking to cool U.S.-Israeli tensions, said he stressed the importance of U.S. ties to his country’s security and of maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region, including its air capabilities.
“We share 100% of the values and 99% of the interests with the United States,” Gallant said.

Biden has come under pressure from human right groups and some fellow Democrats to condition further military aid on Netanyahu holding off on a threatened offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians are sheltering. The U.S. president has resisted doing so.

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