Israel-Palestine conflict: US defense chief to visit amid truce calls

US Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin will meet Israeli leaders to discuss Gaza operations, amid fresh calls for a cease-fire. Meanwhile, the WHO decried the destruction of a northern Gaza hospital

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin  is a staunch backer of Israel (photo: @SecDef/X)
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is a staunch backer of Israel (photo: @SecDef/X)


WHO 'appalled' by destruction of north Gaza hospital

The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said another hospital in Gaza had been effectively destroyed, days after Israeli troops stormed the facility.

"[The WHO] is appalled by the effective destruction of Kamal Adwan Hospital in northern Gaza over the last several days, rendering it non-functional and resulting in the death of at least eight patients," Tedros said on social media.

"Many health workers were reportedly detained, and WHO and partners are urgently seeking information on their status."

The WHO chief also expressed concern about patients who were killed and patients who evacuated.

"We learned that many patients had to self-evacuate at great risk to their health and safety, with ambulances unable to reach the facility," he said.

"Of the deceased patients, several died due to lack of adequate health care, including a nine-year-old child."

More broadly, Tedros said the loss of another hospital in Gaza would compound the existing humanitarian crisis.

"Gaza’s health system was already on its knees, and the loss of another even minimally functioning hospital is a severe blow," he said.

"Attacks on hospitals, health personnel and patients must end. Cease-fire NOW."

Israel's representative to the United Nations said on social media that Tedros did not mention "Hamas entrenchment in hospitals."

The Israeli army previously said it had found weapons and arrested around 80 Hamas members at the facility. Hamas is classified as a terror group by the US, the EU, Germany and others.

Israel also claimed that before entering the hospital, it had negotiated safe passage for the evacuation of most of the hospital.

US defense secretary to meet Israeli leaders amid de-escalation push

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is set to visit Israel on Monday, 18 December as part of a multi-day trip to the West Asia.

The Department of Defense said Austin will meet with Israeli military leaders to underscore the "unwavering" commitment of the US to Israel's right to defend itself in accordance with international humanitarian law.

He will also discuss steps Israel is taking to mitigate civilian harm as well as Israel's plans for Gaza once fighting has ceased.

"It's for [Israel] to determine when they assess that Hamas has been sufficiently degraded [so] that they can shift to the next phase of their campaign," a senior, unnamed defense official said, according to a press release published by the Pentagon.

"We, as the Department of Defense, and Secretary Austin in particular, I think, [have] incredibly valuable perspectives on this and that's what he wants to consult with them about."

Austin's visit to Israel comes as more western nations on Sunday pressed for a cease-fire.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna on Sunday, 17 December called for an "immediate truce" in Gaza as a path to securing the release of hostages still held by Hamas, facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid into the region, and establishing "the beginning of a political solution" to the conflict between Israel and Palestinians.

Colonna said "too many civilians are being killed" in Gaza amid Israel's ongoing military offensive in Gaza against Hamas. 

The UK and Germany, meanwhile, called for a "sustainable cease-fire" in Gaza.

Austin's trip to the West Asia will also include stops in Bahrain and Qatar. He visited Kuwait on Sunday to pay respects to the late Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah.

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Published: 18 Dec 2023, 8:28 AM