World

US defense chief to Israel counterpart: Gaza toll ‘too high’

Published March 26, 2024
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a meeting with Israeli Minister of Defense, Yoav Gallant at the Pentagon on March 26, 2024 in Arlington, Virginia. Photo: AFP
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a meeting with Israeli Minister of Defense, Yoav Gallant at the Pentagon on March 26, 2024 in Arlington, Virginia. Photo: AFP

WASHINGTON: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told his Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant Tuesday that civilian casualties in Gaza are “too high,” and said the two would talk about alternatives to a major Israeli operation in the territory’s south.

A separate Israeli delegation was supposed to visit Washington to discuss US concerns over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to launch an assault on the southern city of Rafah, where much of Gaza’s population has sought refuge.

But Israel scrapped that visit after the United States abstained in a Monday vote on a UN Security Council resolution that called for a Gaza ceasefire, allowing it to pass.

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“In Gaza today, the number of civilian casualties is far too high, and the amount of humanitarian aid is far too low,” Austin said at the beginning of the meeting, adding that it would include discussion of alternatives for targeting Hamas in Rafah.

Gallant meanwhile said they would talk about “developments in Gaza and the means to achieve our goals: the destruction of Hamas organization and bringing back the Israeli hostages.”

Roughly 130 people are still believed to be held in Gaza after they were seized in the shock Hamas attack on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli figures.

Israel’s retaliatory aggression has killed at least 32,414 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry.

The United States has backed Israel with both military and diplomatic support, but has voiced frustration with Netanyahu as the civilian death toll in the Gaza Strip mounts and the humanitarian situation worsens.

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