mourners
© Mahmud Hams/AFPMourners recite a prayer over the bodies of victims killed Israeli bombing
Khan Yunis • southern Gaza Strip
Israel's victory over Hamas will become a "strategic defeat" if the country doesn't prevent civilian casualties during its military operation in Gaza, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has said.

Washington "will continue to press Israel to protect civilians and to ensure the robust flow of humanitarian aid" into Gaza, Austin vowed on Saturday, in a speech at the Reagan National Defense Forum at Simi Valley, California.

Implying that indiscriminate attacks on Gaza by Israel could prompt even more Palestinians to join the ranks of the Hamas armed group, the Pentagon chief said:
"The center of gravity is the civilian population and if you drive them into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat. It would compound this tragedy if all that awaited Israelis and Palestinians at the end of this awful war was more insecurity, more rage and more despair."
At least 193 people have been killed since the IDF renewed its offensive in Gaza after the breakdown of the truce on Friday, Gaza's health ministry said. The overall death toll from attacks on the Palestinian enclave since October 7, when Hamas launched its deadly incursion into Israel, stands at over 15,200, according to the ministry.

Austin, a retired general and former commander of US forces in the Middle East, insisted:
"You can only win in urban warfare by protecting civilians. A two-state solution, in which the Israelis and the Palestinians would find a way to share the land that they both call home, is still the 'only viable' way out of the conflict."
However, the Pentagon chief stressed that it's Israel's duty to respond to the attack by Hamas. The US remains Israel's "closest friend in the world" and will continue to support the country, he promised.

On Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that he made it clear to Israeli authorities:
"Its imperative for the US that the massive loss of civilian life, and displacement of the scale that we saw in northern Gaza, not be repeated in the south."
An Israeli official told the Times of Israel paper on Sunday that the country has put in place a deconfliction mechanism to prevent harm to human-rights workers and civilians in Gaza during the IDF's operations against Hamas.
"We learned lessons from our northern Gaza operations and we are implementing them."



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