Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks out on soaring Gaza casualty numbers

Washington DC - Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called on Israel to better protect the civilian population in the Gaza Strip as it seeks to eliminate Hamas militants in a war that began in October.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called on Israel to better protect the civilian population in the Gaza Strip as it seeks to eliminate Hamas militants in a war that began in October.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called on Israel to better protect the civilian population in the Gaza Strip as it seeks to eliminate Hamas militants in a war that began in October.  © SIMON WOHLFAHRT / AFP

"The number of casualties has been far too high," Austin said on Friday on the fringes of a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, commenting on Israel's military operation in the strip.

"I have engaged my counterpart on a number of occasions and encourage them to be more precise, and also make sure that we're protecting the civilians in the battlespace," Austin said.

Israel must do everything possible to minimize the number of civilian casualties in the combat zone, he said.

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Austin said that achieving military objectives and protecting the civilian population in a combat zone are not mutually exclusive of Israel's goals in Gaza.

This comes amid growing criticism worldwide of the operation given the soaring number of casualties there.

He emphasized that the Islamist Hamas mingles with the civilian population and uses them as human shields, describing this as "despicable tactics."

However, the US official said, protecting the civilian population is a "strategic imperative."

Israel-Gaza war displaces approximately 85% of Gazans, UN figures suggest

The war in Gaza was unleashed by the unprecedented attack on Israel by Hamas on October 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking another 250 as hostages. Around 120 are still in the hands of Hamas, but it is feared that many are already dead.

Israel responded to the attack with a massive military offensive on Gaza, in which at least 37,232 people have been killed and many more thousands injured, according to Hamas-run authorities.

Around 85% of the population in Gaza, 1.9 million people, has been forcibly displaced in the wake of the Israeli attacks, according to UN figures.

Cover photo: SIMON WOHLFAHRT / AFP

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