Israel faced growing calls from Biden administration officials on Saturday to do more to prevent the deaths of Palestinians civilians as a new day of fighting began Sunday in Gaza.
While both U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Israel has a right to defend itself from attack, their remarks reinforced pressure from the Washington.
"Too many innocent Palestinians have been killed," Harris said Saturday. "Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering and the images and videos coming from Gaza are devastating," she said from the COP28 climate conference in Dubai.
Later Saturday, Austin said that while U.S. "support for Israel’s security is non-negotiable," he has personally warned Israel that if it did not take steps to protect civilians, it risked their radicalization.
"In this kind of a fight, 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," Austin said at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California.
He also pressed Israel to dramatically expand Gaza's access to humanitarian aid and renewed U.S. calls for a two-state solution to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
At least 200 Palestinians have been killed since the collapse of the Israel-Hamas truce Friday morning, raising the death toll in Gaza since the Hamas terror attack on October 7 to more than 15,200 people with more than 40,000 wounded, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza, which says 70% of them are women and children.
About 2 million Palestinians, almost the entire population of Gaza, are now crammed into the territory's southern half. They are running out of space where they can flee and seek shelter.
The Israeli military said Saturday it hit more than 400 Hamas targets across Gaza over the past day, using airstrikes and shelling from tanks and navy gunships. It included more than 50 strikes in the city of Khan Younis and surrounding areas in the southern half of Gaza.
In northern Gaza, an airstrike destroyed a residential building hosting displaced families in the urban refugee camp of Jabaliya on the outskirts of Gaza City. The strike on the multistory building left dozens dead or wounded, said residents Hamza Obeid and Amal Radwan.
Israel began its military campaign to wipe out Hamas after Hamas fighters crossed into southern Israel on October 7. Israel said 1,200 people were killed and some 240 captives taken in the terror attack. Hamas has been designated a terrorist organization the U.S., U.K., EU and others.
"We will continue the war until we achieve all its goals, and it's impossible to achieve those goals without the ground operation," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an address Saturday night.
Meanwhile, Hamas fired more than 250 rockets on southern Israel since the cease-fire ended, said Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesperson.
In southern Israel, sirens were heard in communities near the Gaza Strip but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.
The Israeli military published an online map dividing the Gaza Strip into hundreds of numbered parcels and asked residents to familiarize themselves with the number of their location ahead of evacuation warnings.
Israel has accused Hamas of embedding itself in and underneath hospitals and other civilian areas and encouraging civilians to ignore Israeli warnings to evacuate ahead of airstrikes, using them in effect as human shields, something Hamas has denied.
Reuters said it could not confirm the battlefield accounts.
After the breakdown of the truce, the office of Netanyahu announced it has instructed its negotiating team in Doha to return to Israel.
ICC prosecutor snubbed by Palestinian activists
Palestinian human rights groups refused to meet Saturday with International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan, accusing him of favoring Israeli accusations of rights abuses over longstanding Palestinian charges.
Khan has been visiting Israel and the occupied West Bank after a request by a group representing families of victims of the October 7 terror attack, but he was also scheduled to meet Palestinian officials in Ramallah.
Palestinian activists said they would refuse to see him because of their objections to what they saw as unequal treatment of Israeli and Palestinian cases.
"As Palestinian human rights organizations, we decided not to meet him," said Ammar Al-Dwaik, director general of the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR).
Israel security envelope
Meanwhile, Israel has presented some of its neighboring states with plans to carve out a buffer zone on the Palestinian side of Gaza's border with Israel to avert future attacks after the war ends.
"Israel will have to have a security envelope. We can never again allow terrorists to cross the border and butcher our people the way they did on October 7," Mark Regev, a senior adviser to Netanyahu, said Saturday.
"That is not Israel taking territory from Gaza," said Regev. "On the contrary, that is creating security zones where you have a special situation on the ground which limits the ability of people to enter Israel to kill our people. It's common sense."
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month that Washington wants Palestinians to govern Gaza and does not want to see the territory reoccupied by Israel, blockaded, or reduced in size.
Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.