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Obama urges Israel to minimize civilian casualties in war with Hamas

Ahead of an expected ground invasion of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli military, former president Barack Obama spoke out about the deadly conflict in the Middle East on Monday, reiterating that Israel has the right to defend itself against violence like the terrorist attacks inflicted by militant group Hamas while warning that any Israeli military strategy “that ignores the human costs could ultimately backfire.”

Israeli troops are massing around the Gaza Strip in preparation for a ground invasion that could involve heavy urban combat in the densely populated territory. The invasion comes weeks after Hamas attackers crossed into southern Israel, killing at least 1,400 people and taking more than 200 hostages.

In a more than 1,000-word statement posted on the online site Medium, Obama said that the dire humanitarian outcomes of cutting off food, water and electricity in Gaza could “further harden Palestinian attitudes for generations, erode global support for Israel, play into the hands of Israel’s enemies, and undermine long term efforts to achieve peace and stability in the region.”

Obama argued for the continued U.S. support of Israeli efforts to go after Hamas and backed Israel’s right to exist. At the same time, he urged the Israeli military to conduct strategies that abide “by international law, including those laws that seek to avoid, to every extent possible, the death or suffering of civilian populations.”

“Even as we support Israel, we should also be clear that how Israel prosecutes this fight against Hamas matters,” Obama wrote. “Already, thousands of Palestinians have been killed in the bombing of Gaza, many of them children.”

He also waded into the seemingly out-of-reach goal of ultimately carving out a nation for the Palestinian people, calling for “acknowledging that Palestinians have also lived in disputed territories for generations,” while criticizing the Israeli settlers that are taking over Palestinian territory in the West Bank.

“That is the best and perhaps only way to achieve the lasting peace and security most Israeli and Palestinian families yearn for,” he said.

Some Palestinian leaders “who’ve been willing to make concessions for a two-state solution,” he added, “have too often had little to show for their efforts.”

Obama nodded to the tendency in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for Israeli hard-liners to broadly accuse the Jewish state’s critics of antisemitism. He said that while there should be no tolerance of antisemitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian rhetoric, “it is possible for people of good will to champion Palestinian rights and oppose certain Israeli government policies in the West Bank and Gaza without being anti-semitic.”

Obama’s statements echo positions he took during and before his administration, as he continued to back a two-state solution to the long-running conflict. From the early days of his presidency, Obama pressed a tough stance on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, demanding that Israel halt all settlement activity to build momentum for peace.

As president, Obama tried to broker peace talks in 2013 but they collapsed soon after, and he has always had a frosty relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In his Medium post, Obama also backed the strategy that Biden and his top diplomatic and military advisers have begun using to balance U.S. support for Israel with concern about the well-being of Gaza civilians and the worst-case scenario of a wider Middle East conflict.

As The Washington Post reported this week, Biden and his administration have begun reminding Netanyahu that “democracies like Israel and the United States are stronger and more secure when we act according to the rule of law.”

Obama said it is understandable, in the wake of the deadly Hamas attack on Israel, that “many Israelis have demanded that their government do whatever it takes to root out Hamas and make sure such attacks never happen again.”

But the former president noted that Hamas’s military operations “are deeply embedded within Gaza — and its leadership seems to intentionally hide among civilians, thereby endangering the very people they claim to represent.”

The former president said he found Israel’s decision to allow relief trucks into Gaza — a move that was prompted, in part, by the Biden administration — “an encouraging step,” but said more needs to be done by the international community to accelerate the delivery of critical aid.

On Saturday, aid trucks arrived in Gaza for the first time since the start of the war, entering through Egypt’s Rafah border crossing. Supplies of food, drinking water and fuel are dwindling in the Gaza Strip, where more than 2 million people face relentless airstrikes and an Israeli siege.

While Biden has stood steadfastly behind Israel since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, the president’s rhetoric has shifted in recent days as he has sought to draw a distinction between militants and Palestinian civilians.

The former president ended his thoughts with links to news, analysis and opinion articles that he said provide “useful perspectives and background on the conflict.”

Abigail Hauslohner and Glenn Kessler contributed reporting.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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