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Blinken says US wants Israel to shift to targeted operations in Gaza focusing on Hamas leadership

WASHINGTON – The US wants and expects Israel to shift its military operations in Gaza to a lower-intensity phase during which there will be more targeted operations focused on the Hamas leadership and its infrastructure, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Dec 20.

Speaking at a year-end news conference, Mr Blinken said once this shift happens, the “harm done to civilians” should decrease significantly, while repeating his calls for Israel to heed its obligation to minimise civilian casualties as it moves to destroy Hamas.

“It’s clear that the conflict will move and needs to move to a lower-intensity phase,” Blinken told reporters.

“We expect to see and want to see a shift to more targeted operations with a smaller number of forces that’s really focused in on dealing with the leadership of Hamas, tunnel network and a few other critical things,” he said.

“As that happens, I think you’ll see as well the harm done to civilians also decrease significantly.”

Israel has faced increasing pressure from its Western allies to curb a military onslaught in Gaza that has laid waste to much of the densely populated coastal enclave in retaliation for the Hamas killing and kidnapping spree on Oct 7.

Washington, Israel’s closest ally, has called publicly over the past week for it to scale down its all-out war into a more targeted campaign against Hamas leaders and end what US President Joe Biden called “indiscriminate bombing”.

“We continue to believe that Israel does not have to choose between removing the threat of Hamas and minimising the toll on civilians in Gaza,” Mr Blinken said.

“It has an obligation to do both and it has a strategic interest to do both.”

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But he said he was also struck by what he described as an absence of demands by other countries for Hamas to lay down its weapons and surrender, and he called for pressure on the Islamist group to take those steps to end the war.

“We hear many countries urging an end to this conflict, which we would all like to see. I hear virtually no one saying, demanding of Hamas that it stop hiding behind civilians, that it lay down its arms, that it surrender,” he said.

“This is over tomorrow if Hamas does that,” Mr Blinken said. REUTERS

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