Top Biden aide: US concerned about civilian casualties in fight for Shifa Hospital

As IDF advances in Gaza, Jake Sullivan says ‘we don’t want to see firefights in hospitals,’ accuses Hamas of acting ‘in way that’s outside the bounds of any civilized concept’

People stand outside the emergency ward of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on November 10, 2023, amid the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. (Khader Al Zanoun/AFP)
People stand outside the emergency ward of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on November 10, 2023, amid the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. (Khader Al Zanoun/AFP)

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Sunday said the Biden administration has shared concerns with Israel about potential civilian casualties in an operation to capture Gaza City’s Al-Shifa Hospital, where Hamas allegedly has a key command center.

“The United States does not want to see firefights in hospitals where innocent people, patients receiving medical care, are caught in the crossfire. And we’ve had active consultations with the Israel Defense Forces on this,” Sullivan told the CBS News program “Face the Nation.”

Sullivan noted the IDF has said it’s working to ensure the safety of patients “while they also try to figure out a way to try to deal with the fact that Hamas is operating in a way that is outside the bounds of any civilized concept of how you would think about using a hospital, using human shields.”

“It’s an active conversation, but the bottom line is that we do not want to see firefights in hospitals,” he added.

Sullivan also appeared to back Israeli allegations about Hamas’s use of Al-Shifa.

“Without getting into intelligence information, we can just look at the open source reporting that Hamas is using hospitals as it uses many facilities for command-and-control, for weapons storage, to house its fighters, and this is a violation of the laws of war,” he said.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan speaks at the White House in Washington, Oct. 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The US national security adviser was asked during the interview about assessments of Palestinian casualties in Gaza, which the Hamas-run health ministry has put at over 11,000. The figures cannot be verified independently and are though to include terrorists and Palestinian civilians killed by misfired rockets.

“We don’t have fidelity on the numbers of casualties, fatalities in Gaza. We don’t know how many are fighters, how many are innocent civilians,” Sullivan said.

“We do know there are thousands of innocent civilians who have been killed in the military operations that began after October 7. Every loss of life of an innocent person… is an absolute tragedy and we grieve for every one of those lives,” he added.

“We continue to reinforce the proposition that Israel has the right, indeed the responsibility, to go after Hamas, which continues to represent a threat to the State of Israel, but it must do so in a way that is consistent with the laws of war.”

Sullivan addressed the Biden administration’s post-war vision for Gaza, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would oppose the Palestinian Authority’s return to the Strip once the fighting ends as the US has called for.

“The basic principles of the way forward are straightforward,” Sullivan said. “No reoccupation of Gaza; no forcible displacement of the Palestinian people; Gaza can never be used as a base for terrorism in the future; and Gaza’s territory should not be reduced.”

“Ultimately we do want to see the reconnection, the reunification of control between the West Bank and Gaza under Palestinian leadership,” he added.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist terror group Hamas, in Ramallah in the West Bank, November 5, 2023. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool photo via AP)

He continued: “Post-October 7, we cannot go back to the way things were on October 6 and that goes for ensuring that Hamas cannot represent a continuing threat to Israel and in fact Hamas spokespeople have in fact said they want to repeat October 7 again and again until Israel is wiped out, that they want to be in a permanent state of war with Israel.”

“Israel is going to prosecute this campaign against a terrorist group, but we also can’t go back to October 6 when it comes to governance.”

Also Sunday, the Axios news site reported that Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin expressed concern to Defense Minister Yoav Gallant that Israel is trying to provoke Hezbollah with its military responses to repeated cross border attacks by the Iran-backed Lebanese terror group, some of which have been deadly.

After the two spoke Saturday, the Pentagon released a statement saying Austin “emphasized the need to contain the conflict to Gaza and avoid regional escalation,” without mentioning Lebanon. But according to Israeli and US sources quoted by Axios, the call between Austin and Gallant did touch on Lebanon, with the latter asking Israel to avoid moves that could lead to a full-blown war with Hezbollah.

Gallant reportedly responded that Israel is not seeking another front in Lebanon and did not believe this would happen, while adding that Hezbollah was ramping up its attacks.

The report came after at least 14 civilians were wounded, including one seriously, in an anti-tank guided missile attack by Hezbollah on Sunday. In another attack, seven soldiers were wounded by a mortar near the northern community of Menara.

The scene after an anti-tank guided missile was fired from Lebanon toward northern Israel, injuring civilians on November 12, 2023 (Screen grab used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Since Hamas’s onslaught on October 7 and the subsequent war inside Gaza, where Israel seeks to topple the ruling terror group, Hezbollah has conducted and overseen daily assaults on Israel’s northern border from Lebanon, but has stopped short of launching a full-scale campaign.

Israel, too, has attempted to walk a fine line, responding with significant firepower to attacks and attempted attacks, while trying to avoid actions that would escalate the conflict as it seeks to keep its focus on Gaza.

The persistent skirmishes along the border have resulted in two civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of six IDF soldiers.

On the Lebanese side, more than 80 have been killed. The toll includes at least 71 Hezbollah members, eight Palestinian terrorists, a number of civilians, and one Reuters journalist.

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