Kirby dons 'Bring them home now' hostage necklace

Biden aide: Israel taking steps to protect civilians that even US might not have

Kirby appears to soften critique of Israel after president decries ‘indiscriminate’ bombing; notes Israel ‘telegraphing its punches’ with evacuation map in south Gaza

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby wears a necklace with the 'Bring Them Home-Now' message to release the hostages in Hebrew and English as he speaks at a press briefing at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby wears a necklace with the 'Bring Them Home-Now' message to release the hostages in Hebrew and English as he speaks at a press briefing at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

WASHINGTON — White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby suggested Wednesday that some of the steps the Israeli military has taken to prevent civilian casualties in Gaza might go further than what the US would have done if it were in Israel’s place.

His comments appeared to soften the blow of a critique by US President Joe Biden who said a day earlier that Israel was losing global support in the war against Hamas due to “indiscriminate bombing” in the Palestinian enclave.

Kirby highlighted the map the IDF published earlier this month alerting civilians as to which neighborhoods it is planning to attack so that they can evacuate ahead of time.

“That’s basically telegraphing your punches. There are very few modern militaries in the world that would do that. I don’t know that we would do that,” Kirby said during a press briefing.

Kirby also said Israel has reduced its airstrikes in the south, relying more on ground forces than it did in northern Gaza.

“They moved into southern Gaza on the ground in a way that was much smaller than they planned to do,” Kirby said. “We think that was an output of some of the advice and counsel we provided them about urban warfare.”

File: An interactive Gaza map issued by the IDF splits the Strip into hundreds of zones. The IDF said December 1, 2023, that it will be used to notify Palestinian civilians of active combat zones. (Screenshot)

The White House spokesperson was one of several officials in Biden’s administration who appeared to be trying to walk back the president’s message from Tuesday.

Israel has faced mounting global criticism for the rising death toll in Gaza, three months into a war against Hamas, which led a shock onslaught on Israel on October 7 when thousands of terrorists rampaged through southern Israel, massacring 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking some 240 people hostage. Israel then launched its campaign against the terror group, vowing to eliminate its military and government in the Gaza Strip, where it has ruled since 2007.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza has claimed that, since the start of the war, more than 18,600 people have been killed, mostly civilians. These figures cannot be independently verified and are believed to include some 7,000 Hamas terrorists, according to Israel, as well as civilians killed by misfired Palestinian rockets. Another estimated 1,000 terrorists were killed in Israel during the October 7 onslaught.

Biden, who has provided unprecedented support for Israel since the outbreak of the war, went after Netanyahu and members of his hardline coalition earlier in the week over their opposition to a two-state solution, while warning that Israel was losing international backing and that the prime minister “has to change.”

Kirby said Wednesday that the president’s comments “reflected the reality of global opinion, which also matters. Our support for Israel is not diminished, but we have had concerns and we have expressed those concerns about the prosecution of this military campaign, even while acknowledging that it is Hamas that started this and that it’s Hamas that is continuing it.”

He said Israel has been acting on the “intent [to reduce civilian casualties] in positive ways.”

The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a nonbinding resolution Tuesday demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and the immediate, unconditional release of all hostages. The US and Israel voted against.

Kirby wore a dog tag necklace during his White House briefing reading “Bring them home now,” a symbol that has become ubiquitous around Israel in recent weeks. Israeli officials say about 135 hostages remain in Gaza, including around 20 bodies.

File: Trucks in transit through the commercial crossing of Karm Abu Salem, or Kerem Shalom, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on September 10, 2023. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Kirby’s comments came ahead of a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan slated for Thursday. The official is also scheduled to meet with President Isaac Herzog, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Minister Benny Gantz, and other members of the war cabinet managing the war against Hamas, according to a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Kirby said the potential opening of the Kerem Shalom crossing — which was recently opened for aid inspections — will be on the agenda in Sullivan’s meetings.

US State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said Wednesday that fully reopening Kerem Shalom “would alleviate some of the traffic” at Egypt’s Rafah Crossing, which is currently the only crossing open for the entry of humanitarian aid, and added that opening Kerem Shalom would allow for a significant increase in the delivery of assistance into the Strip.

Miller welcomed the step of opening the crossing for inspections and praised the ongoing humanitarian efforts, such as the establishment of “enduring deconfliction routes” in southern Gaza for civilians to be able to move out of harm’s way and for humanitarian aid to be able to reach those in need, as well as four-hour pauses in the fighting in different southern Gaza neighborhoods.

While humanitarian efforts were progressing, an end to the war did not appear to be on the horizon, after Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen both vowed Wednesday that the military offensive against Hamas would continue even at the risk of losing international support.

During a visit to a southern military facility, the prime minister told soldiers that “we are continuing until the end, until victory, until the elimination of Hamas” — even in the face of international pressure. “Nothing will stop us.”

Echoing the prime minister’s sentiments, Cohen told visiting Australian Deputy Foreign Minister Tim Watts that the war against Hamas will continue “with or without international support.”

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