Biden understands Arab and Muslim concerns over Israel-Gaza war toll, White House says

Iran has not yet jumped into Israel-Gaza war 'with both feet', John Kirby tells The National

White House acknowledges fear for US Muslims amid war in Gaza

White House acknowledges fear for US Muslims amid war in Gaza
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President Joe Biden understands the fear and anxiety of Arabs and Muslims in the US and around the world and is “steadfastly” pushing Israel to try to protect civilians in the Gaza Strip, the White House has told The National.

Speaking one month since the October 7 Hamas attacks on southern Israel, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Tuesday also ruled out US troops fighting in Gaza and said there were no signs Iran has jumped into the conflict “with both feet”, despite a surge in attacks by Tehran-linked groups in Iraq and Syria.

In the weeks since Hamas killed about 1,400 people in Israel and took 240 more hostage, Israel has pounded the Gaza Strip to try to eradicate the group.

Hamas health authorities say more than 10,300 people have been killed, most of them women and children, raising questions as to the legitimacy and proportionality of the Israeli response.

Mr Kirby said the White House believes that Hamas should never be allowed to govern Gaza again and that Israel must be able to defend itself.

But Mr Biden “also understands the fear, the anxiety, the mourning in the Arab community and the Muslim community here and around the world for the civilian casualties”, Mr Kirby said.

“It's heartbreaking to see the images coming out of Gaza, of little babies being pulled from the rubble and being killed by these air strikes, and that is why he has maintained steadfastly in every conversation that he has with the Prime Minister [Benjamin Netanyahu], the need to do everything possible to protect innocent civilian life.”

Mr Biden spoke to Mr Netanyahu on Monday and discussed “temporary and localised pauses” in strikes on the Gaza Strip.

When asked if the US is satisfied that Israel is striking legitimate military targets, Mr Kirby said: “We are not going to react in real time to every strike or every tactical operation that the Israelis conduct”.

The President is facing mounting anger at home and abroad over his handling of the conflict and his administration’s refusal to call for a ceasefire, instead trying to persuade Israel to enact more loosely defined “pauses”.

The Pentagon requires no monitoring of how US bombs are used in Gaza and Mr Kirby reiterated the US position that it is “still the case” that there are no “red lines” in how Israel conducts its operations in the Palestinian territory.

Mr Kirby said the White House still does not take Hamas authorities’ civilian casualty numbers “at face value”, but said “many, many thousands” had been killed.

A growing number of Mr Biden’s fellow Democrats are calling for a ceasefire, and on Saturday tens of thousands of protesters in Washington marched in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, demanding US support for a ceasefire.

Arab and Muslim-American voters in key states, including Michigan, say they will not support Mr Biden in 2024, a loss of support that could prove critical.

Mr Biden has drawn ire for comments questioning the death toll in Gaza, even as schools, hospitals and apartment buildings collapse under Israeli strikes.

Iran-backed attacks

The US is trying to avoid the Israel-Gaza war becoming a broader regional conflict but attacks launched by Hezbollah from Lebanon have already increased, and Iran-backed militias are attacking American forces in Iraq and Syria on a near daily basis.

American forces in Iraq were hit with two more attacks in the past 24 hours, a Defence Department official confirmed to The National on Tuesday, bringing the number of strikes on US and coalition forces in Iraq and Syria to 40 since mid-October, with 22 in Iraq and 18 in Syria so far.

Nonetheless, Mr Kirby said the US does not assess other groups or nations are determined to broaden the conflict.

“While there has been some rocket attacks, certainly across the northern border of Israel, from Lebanon … We still would not judge that any other actor, including Iran, has jumped in with both feet here to try to really escalate the conflict,” Mr Kirby said.

No US boots on the ground

Washington is Israel’s largest benefactor, funding its military with $3.3 billion annually. Congress is currently seeking another $14.3 billion in emergency funding.

The US has sent air defence systems, aircraft carriers and troops to the Middle East in recent weeks, but officials have stressed they are there to protect US forces in the region and deter other countries or groups from getting involved in the Israel-Gaza war.

The Pentagon says it has special operations forces working in Israel, primarily to assist in hostage recovery efforts. Last week, the US confirmed it is flying unarmed drones over Gaza to try to aid in these operations.

Mr Kirby said this should not be seen as a sign that the US will eventually deploy troops to help the Israelis in their ground operations in Gaza.

“The use of unmanned aerial assets is strictly to help provide a measure of situational awareness about hostages and where they might be,” Mr Kirby said.

“It should not be construed by anybody as some sort of precursor to US boots on the ground. There is no plan, no intention to put American soldiers on the ground in Gaza.”

The latest from the Israel-Gaza war – in pictures

Updated: November 08, 2023, 12:49 PM