US Secretary of Defense: Civilians are the “center of gravity” in the Gaza war

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made his strongest statements on Saturday on the need for Israel to protect civilians in Gaza, describing them as the center of gravity in Israel’s war against Hamas and warning of the dangers of their extremism, according to reported by Reuters. .

“In this type of combat, the center of gravity is the civilian population,” Austin said, “if you push them into the arms of the enemy, you will replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat.”

Drawing on his experience as a four-star general who fought the battle against ISIS, he added: “Therefore, I have always made it clear to Israeli leaders that protecting Palestinian civilians in Gaza is a moral responsibility and a strategic necessity.”

Austin said in statements made at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, that he personally urged Israeli leaders to avoid civilian deaths and injuries, to stop “irresponsible rhetoric” and to prevent settler violence in West Bank.

He added that he also urges Israel to significantly expand the scope of humanitarian aid entering Gaza, adding that he expects further aid to be delivered “in the coming days.”

Austin’s statements come in light of Israeli warplane and artillery bombardment of the Gaza Strip on Saturday.

The United States confirmed the provision of military aid to Israel, including air defenses and other munitions.

Austin pledged that the United States would stand by Israel, underscoring Israel’s commitment to responding after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack and describing Hamas as a “brutal enemy.”

“The United States will remain Israel’s closest friend in the world,” Austin told an audience of prominent U.S. lawmakers, national security officials and defense executives, “our support for Israel’s security is non-negotiable.”

Austin also renewed calls for the United States to establish two states to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He continued: “Without hopeful prospects, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will continue to be a source of instability, insecurity and human suffering.”

As the war between Israel and Hamas escalates tensions in the region, the Pentagon faces waves of attacks on American forces from Iran-backed groups that blame the United States for Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Washington has repeatedly stressed that its recent military decisions in the region have nothing to do with the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

Austin accused Iran of “inflaming tensions” and referenced recent US airstrikes in response to Iran.

Austin stated: “We will not tolerate attacks against American military personnel. Therefore, these attacks must stop.”

On Saturday, Israel intensified its bombing of the Gaza Strip for the second consecutive day after the end of the truce with Hamas, while the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, decided to return the Mossad intelligence team from Qatar after reaching a blind”. ” in negotiations with the movement.

The Israeli military confirmed on Saturday that it had bombed “more than 400 terrorist targets” in the Gaza Strip, noting that its warplanes had hit “more than 50 targets in an intense attack in the Khan Yunis area.”

He explained that he had targeted the “north of the Gaza Strip” with artillery and raids, in particular “terrorist cells” and “the mosque used by the Islamic Jihad movement as an operational command center” and “weapons depot”, as well as to have killed a “Hamas Battalion Commander”, while Hamas confirmed the launch. Rockets hit Tel Aviv and sirens sounded throughout central Israel.

Hamas’ Health Ministry announced Saturday that Israeli shelling from land, sea and air since Friday morning has killed at least 240 people and wounded more than 650 others, stressing that it has focused on the town of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip , bringing the total number of victims since the beginning of the conflict to more than 15,200 people in the Gaza Strip, according to health authorities in the Strip.

The Israeli raids respond to the attack launched by Hamas on October 7, which cost the lives of 1,200 people, according to Israeli authorities, and during which the movement kidnapped more than 200 people.

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