US tells UN: Israel undermines goals with civilian harm in Gaza

Aftermath of an Israeli strike on an area designated for displaced people, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -Israel must do more to protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza and should "remove all barriers to the flow of aid at scale through all crossings and routes" into the enclave, the United States told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday.

"The continued pattern of significant civilian harm resulting from incidents like Sunday's airstrikes undermines Israel's strategic goals in Gaza," deputy U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Robert Wood told the 15-member council.

An airstrike on Sunday set off a blaze in a tent camp in Rafah in southern Gaza, killing at least 45 people. Israel - a U.S. ally - said it had targeted Hamas militants and had not intended to harm civilians.

Algeria on Tuesday put forward a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that essentially orders Israel to "immediately halt its military offensive" in Rafah. On Wednesday, Wood told reporters that Washington was reviewing it, but U.N. action was unlikely to be helpful or change the situation on the ground.

The draft text also cites a ruling by the International Court of Justice on May 24 that ordered Israel to immediately halt its military assault on Rafah, in a landmark emergency ruling in South Africa's case accusing Israel of genocide.

Wood said the ruling echoed the U.S. position that Israel must avoid a major military operation in Rafah that would put huge numbers of civilians at risk. The U.S. said on Tuesday that Israel's actions in Rafah did not amount to a major ground operation that could change U.S. policy toward Israel.

Humanitarian aid access to Gaza has been extremely limited since Israel began its military incursion into Rafah three weeks ago, the U.N. has said, with famine looming in the enclave of 2.3 million people. Wood said more must be done to get aid into Gaza and safely distributed.

HUMAN SHIELDS

Israel has been fighting to eradicate Hamas, which rules Gaza, since a cross-border Oct. 7 attack by militants in which some 1,200 people were killed and over 250 taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. Nearly 130 hostages are believed to remain captive in Gaza.

Gaza health authorities say more than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war over the past seven months. Israel says it wants to root out the last major intact formations of Hamas fighters hunkered down in Rafah and rescue hostages.

"Israel can kill any Palestinian and call them either terrorists or human shields to justify that murder. It uses both terms extremely loosely so they can cover anyone and everyone," deputy Palestinian U.N. envoy Majed Bamya told the council.

"Israel has called any form of opposition to its occupation and suppression of the Palestinian people terrorism," he said.

Israel's deputy U.N. Ambassador Jonathan Miller said the war could end if Hamas released the hostages and put down its arms.

"But the reality is that Hamas refuses these terms. Hamas chooses to hold innocents hostage. Hamas chooses to continue firing rockets. Hamas chooses to exploit the civilians of Gaza as human shields," he told the council.

Wood said Israel has a right to defend itself, but it also has to protect civilians and "the fact that Hamas leaders and fighters hide among civilians does not lessen" that obligation.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Paul Grant and Mark Heinrich)