The White House expressed confidence Tuesday that Israel is trying to minimize civilian casualties as Israeli forces carry out airstrikes in Gaza as well as a ground offensive following Hamas terrorist attacks earlier this month, as the rising toll of civilian casualties has sparked outcry from humanitarian groups and activists.
John Kirby, a White House spokesperson on foreign policy and national security, told reporters that the U.S. recognizes that thousands of civilians have been killed and injured and infrastructure has been damaged in the shelling in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, which the U.S. has designated as a terrorist group.
“We observe that, and we’re not accepting of any single civilian death,” Kirby said.
“Unlike Russia in Ukraine, and unlike what Hamas did on the 7th of October, the killing of civilians is not a war aim of Israel,” Kirby continued. “I’m not denying that it’s happening; of course it is. And it’s tragic. But it’s not the goal of Israeli forces to go out and deliberately take innocent civilian life. And they have tried to make efforts to minimize that.”
Kirby added that it’s “obvious to us” that Israel is “trying to minimize” civilian casualties.
Humanitarian groups, activists and some progressive lawmakers have increasingly called on the White House to support a cease-fire in Gaza, and some have been critical of U.S. support for Israel’s response to the Hamas terrorist attacks that killed 1,400 Israelis.
U.S. officials have said they would think about favoring a “humanitarian pause” to allow more aid into Gaza, but have argued a cease-fire would allow Hamas to solidify its position.
Shortly before Kirby addressed reporters in the briefing room, the Israeli military said it was responsible for a strike that hit the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza, killing hundreds.
Kirby said he had not specifically seen reports about the strike on the refugee camp, but he spoke more broadly about the belief that Israel is trying to minimize the impact on civilians.
“What I can tell you is that we have indications that they are trying,” Kirby said. “I’m not predicting that on any given day they aren’t going to fail to meet their own expectations about killing civilians. Sadly, our own experience as a military over the last 20 years has shown us that even with our best intentions and all the efforts we put into avoiding civilian casualties, we still cause them. And it’s tragic each and every time.”
President Biden and White House officials have been staunchly supportive of Israel and its right to respond to the Hamas terrorist attacks since they took place in early October. But in recent weeks, Biden and other administration officials have increasingly spoken publicly about their desire to see Israel abide by the rules of war and minimize harm to civilians, as well as let aid into Gaza for civilians.