US sets up channel with Israel focused on civilian casualties

New communications line appears to be effort by Washington to bring accountability to Israel in war on Gaza

The aftermath of a strike on a UN agency vocational training centre, where displaced people were sheltering in Khan Younis, on January 24. AP
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The US has set up a channel to raise concerns with Israel over reported incidents in Gaza in which civilians have been killed or injured by the military and civilian services have been attacked, an American official confirmed to The National on Thursday.

The channel was set up after a meeting this month between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israel's war cabinet, during which he expressed concern about the “constant” reports of Israeli strikes that hit humanitarian sites or resulted in large numbers of civilian deaths.

Reuters first reported on the channel.

In the meeting, Mr Blinken told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and minister Benny Gantz that Washington needed to know “what the answers are” when it comes to reports of strikes, one of the officials told Reuters.

He told them that the US sought a “reliable channel” through which it can regularly raise such issues with the Israelis, the official said.

The channel comes as a response to the mounting pressure on the Biden administration over the steep toll on Palestinian civilians of Israel's campaign against Hamas that has killed more than 25,700 people, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, and displaced millions.

It also underscores Washington's frustration with Israel's failure to ease the plight of a civilian population deprived since mid-October of most of the aid that earlier flowed into Gaza, and of adequate medical care for more than 62,000 people who have been wounded.

Through the channel, which has been active for the past few weeks, Washington raises with the Israelis “every specific incident of concern” related to their military campaign in Gaza, another US official said.

The Israelis investigate and provide feedback to the Americans.

In some instances, the Israelis have passed on information that sheds light on an incident while in others, they admitted they “made a mistake", the officials told Reuters.

The US set up the process to drive accountability for Israel, one of the officials said. It was not clear what action, if any, Washington would take against Israel as a result of what it learns.

The channel works through diplomats in the US embassy in Jerusalem, the State Department's regional bureau focusing on the Middle East, and US President Joe Biden's special envoy for the region's humanitarian issues, David Satterfield, officials told Reuters.

Most recently, the US used the channel to seek details on what the UN on Wednesday said was an attack by Israeli tanks on one of its compounds in Gaza sheltering displaced Palestinians.

It was not clear how Israel responded, officials said.

Gazans receiving treatment in UAE recount horrors of war

Gazans receiving treatment in UAE recount horrors of war

The Biden administration has so far refused to criticise Israel directly over the civilian death toll, even though senior Biden aides have said “far too many” Palestinians have been killed in the conflict.

US officials have also declined to say if Washington was considering investigating whether Israel's attacks have breached the international rules of war.

The US provides Israel with $3.8 billion in annual military assistance.

While Washington has traditionally used such aid to influence the behaviour of its allies, it has largely ruled out using that tactic with Israel, which critics say provides a sense of impunity for the country.

State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said on Wednesday that any civilian death was “heartbreaking” but it was not an American operation and it was up to the Israeli army to investigate “credible allegations of law or of war violations when they arise".

Updated: January 26, 2024, 8:26 AM