Israel must “immediately and significantly” increase the amount of humanitarian aid entering the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, U.S. President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a phone call on Sunday.
“The President reiterated that Israel has every right and responsibility to defend its citizens from terrorism and underscored the need to do so in a manner consistent with international humanitarian law that prioritizes the protection of civilians,” according to a White House readout of the call.
Biden and Netanyahu also discussed efforts to locate and secure the release of the hostages held in Gaza, including “American citizens who remain unaccounted for and may be held by Hamas,” the White House said.
In addition to the hostages, some 500 to 600 U.S. passport holders are believed to be stuck in the coastal enclave, Washington has confirmed, with Hamas making an unspecified series of demands in exchange for their release.
“The President and the Prime Minister agreed to remain in regular consultation both directly and through their respective national security teams,” concluded Sunday’s readout.
In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper just hours earlier, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stressed the need for the Israeli army “to make every possible effort to distinguish between terrorists and Palestinian civilians during the ground operation in Gaza.”
Hamas’s use of human shields “creates an added burden for Israel but does not lessen Israel’s responsibility under international law to distinguish between terrorists and civilians and to protect the lives of innocent people,” claimed the Biden administration official.
The U.S. has been asking Jerusalem “hard questions” about “Israeli military objectives and the steps they have taken and intend to take to achieve those objectives,” added Sullivan.
“We’ve asked them hard questions, the same hard questions that we would ask ourselves if we were seeking to conduct an operation to take out a terrorist threat,” he continued. “We pressed them on questions like objectives and matching means to objectives, about both tactical and strategic issues associated with this operation.”
Also on Sunday, the Wall Street Journal cited a senior U.S. official as saying that Israel had taken steps to shut down Gaza’s phone and internet communications, but that the United States convinced Israel to reverse those measures.
“The restoration of some telecommunication services on Sunday morning meant that the U.N., WHO and other emergency and aid groups could begin to coordinate with their staff in Gaza again,” said the report. “The official said that the U.S. made it clear to Israel that communications needed to be turned back on,” it added.
Washington’s demands come as the Israel Defense Forces continue to expand its ground operations in the Gaza Strip.
Soldiers of the 52nd Battalion, part of the Armored Corps’ 401st Brigade, who entered the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday raised the Israeli flag on one of the buildings there, according to video documentation shared online.
A soldier recording his comrades raising the flag can be heard in the video saying that three weeks after the Oct. 7 massacre of Israelis by Hamas terrorists, troops “lift the flag of Israel in the heart of Gaza, along the beach. We will not forget, we will not forgive and we will not stop until victory.”
Israel launched “Operation Swords of Iron” on Oct. 7 after Hamas invaded southern Israel, murdering at least 1,400 people, wounding more than 5,000 and taking over 200 hostages back to Gaza.
According to the IDF, the families of 239 people have been notified that their loved ones are being held by Hamas.