US Senators Call on Israel to Shift Gaza Tactics as Deaths Rise

(Bloomberg) -- Senior US senators expressed concern about civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip, signaling growing scrutiny in Washington over Israel’s military response to last month’s attack by Hamas.

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“Israel has a right to defend itself, but what Israel does not have the right to do is to kill thousands and thousands of innocent men, women and children who had nothing to do with that attack,” Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and former Democratic presidential candidate, said on CNN’s State of the Union.

Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Jack Reed called on Israel to rely on US intelligence to help “minimize the harm to civilians,” to comply with the laws of war and help with “winning the battle of minds and hearts.”

“We want that intelligence to inform selected targets, precise targets, want them to use precision-guided weapons systems with smaller diameter bombs,” Reed said on Fox News Sunday.

Unease and outright criticism over Israel’s military campaign to eliminate the threat from Hamas has increased among progressives and some mainstream Democrats as the war has dragged on with thousands of Palestinian casualties.

Hamas, designated a terrorist group by the US and the European Union, breached Israel’s border on Oct. 7, killing 1,400 people and taking more than 200 hostages.

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With the White House and House Republicans at odds over the legislative solution for emergency aid for Israel, the intra-party criticism poses political risks for President Joe Biden and for the US’s strongest ally in the Middle East — even as Israel’s broad range of supporters in Washington emphasize its right to defend itself.

Senator Chris Murphy, chair of the chamber’s Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, last week called on Israel to “change direction” in its Gaza operation.

“It’s time for Israel’s friends to recognize that the current operational approach is causing an unacceptable level of civilian harm and does not appear likely to achieve the goal of permanently ending the threat from Hamas,” he said in a statement.

Prominent progressive Democrats say the US isn’t doing enough to protect Palestinian civilians, while a group of House Republicans object to coupling aid to Israel with assistance to Ukraine. Biden has said he would veto a House-passed bill that would free aid Israel in return for cuts to additional funding for the Internal Revenue Service sought by the administration.

Muslim and Arab Americans have criticized Biden for his support for Israel’s campaign against Hamas. An estimated 10,000 pro-Palestinian protesters marched in downtown Washington on Saturday, including in front of the White House.

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The Biden administration has proposed a pause to allow time to free Hamas-held hostages in Gaza, which would stop short of a cease-fire south by Arab countries such as Egypt and Jordan. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said more must be done to protect Palestinian civilians.

--With assistance from Victoria Cavaliere.

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