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14 Oct, 2023 04:58

US diplomats told to avoid calls for Gaza ‘ceasefire’

A memo to officials suggests Washington will not urge Israel to restrain its military action in the Palestinian enclave
US diplomats told to avoid calls for Gaza ‘ceasefire’

The US State Department has advised diplomats to avoid calling for “de-escalation” or a “ceasefire” in Gaza amid continued fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants, multiple media outlets have reported. US officials have voiced loud support for the Jewish state’s right to “self-defense” in the wake of a deadly Hamas raid last week.

In an email addressed to a small group of officials on Friday, the State Department said US press materials should steer clear of phrases such as “restoring calm,” “end to violence/bloodshed,” or “de-escalation/ceasefire,” unnamed administration officials told NBC News and other outlets.

The Huffington Post, which obtained a copy of the email, called the missive a “stunning signal” and an indication of the White House’s “reluctance to push for Israeli restraint.” The email was sent amid a new round of airstrikes on Gaza in response to a Hamas-led terrorist attack last Saturday.

Asked about the directive, an unnamed State Department official told HuffPo that they would not comment on internal communications.

Despite the discussions behind the scenes, at a press event in Qatar later on Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters that Washington had stressed to Israel the “importance of taking every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians” in Gaza. He added, “We recognize that many Palestinian families in Gaza are suffering through no fault of their own and that Palestinian civilians have lost their lives.”

President Joe Biden described last weekend’s Hamas attack as “pure evil” and insisted that Israel has the right to respond. However, in recent remarks, he claimed that Washington and its allies “uphold the laws of war,” and reportedly asked his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza during private discussions, according to NBC.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin relayed a similar message to IDF officials during meetings in Israel on Friday, the outlet added, noting that he urged them to “observe international rules of warfare.”

Since last Saturday, at least 1,300 Israelis and nearly 1,900 Palestinians have been killed in hostilities, with thousands more injured on both sides, according to local officials. IDF bombing raids have continued into Saturday morning, leveling whole apartment blocks in some strikes, while Israeli ground troops have begun their initial thrust into Gaza. 

The Israeli government has ordered more than 1 million residents in northern Gaza to evacuate the area for their own safety, though the United Nations and other rights groups have slammed the directive, saying it would be impossible to accomplish without a massive humanitarian toll. Asked about the policy on Friday, White House spokesman John Kirby declined to endorse or condemn it, merely calling it “a tall order.”