In Israel, Jake Sullivan Denies Talk of a Rift Over Gaza War

Days after President Biden said Israel was losing support for its military campaign in the Gaza Strip, the president’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, on Friday played down differences between the two allies after meetings with Israel’s top leaders.

“We’re not here to tell anybody, ‘You must do X, you must do Y,’” Mr. Sullivan told reporters in Tel Aviv, the latest emissary from the Biden administration to visit Israel to discuss the war.

His remarks came on the same day that the Israeli military said its soldiers had accidentally killed three Israeli hostages in what it described as an “active combat zone.” During fighting in Shejaiya, a neighborhood in Gaza City, troops “mistakenly identified three Israeli hostages as a threat,” the military said in a statement. “As a result, the troops fired toward them and they were killed.”

The military said it realized the error during checks in the area and “suspicion arose over the identities of the deceased.”

The military identified the three Israelis killed as Alon Shamriz, Yotam Haim and Samer Talalka; all three were abducted in the Oct. 7 Hamas-led raid that triggered the war.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel called the killings “an unbearable tragedy” and praised the “brave warriors who are devoted to the sacred mission of returning our hostages, even at the cost of their lives.”

Daniel Hagari, the chief spokesman for the Israeli military, expressed “deep sorrow” and said the military was investigating the episode.

On Saturday, the slain hostages’ relatives will address the “terrible disaster,” said Liat Bell Sommer, spokeswoman of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which represents those kidnapped on Oct. 7 and their relatives.

The Israeli military also said on Friday that it had retrieved the bodies of two soldiers and an event planner who were kidnapped on Oct. 7 and held captive in Gaza. The hostages were identified as Cpl. Nik Beiser, 19; Sgt. Ron Sherman, 19; and Elia Toledano, 28. The military did not give details about how the three men died or where their remains were found.

As the Israeli military has come under strong criticism for the widespread use of unguided munitions — “indiscriminate bombing” in the words of Mr. Biden — and the enormous civilian death toll that has resulted, gaps over the prosecution of the war between Israel and the United States, its strongest backer, have become more prominent in recent days.

The Gazan health officials have said that nearly 20,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began more than two months ago.

On Thursday, Biden administration officials said they wanted Israel to end its large-scale ground and air campaign in Gaza within weeks and transition to more targeted operations against Hamas.

Israeli officials said it would take months of fighting to uproot Hamas from Gaza.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Mr. Sullivan also met with the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, on Friday and discussed revamping the unpopular Palestinian government, which Biden administration officials have said they hope will play a role in Gaza after Hamas’s removal.

Mr. Sullivan told reporters ahead of his meeting with Mr. Abbas that the two would also discuss “efforts to promote stability in the West Bank” and crack down on attacks on Palestinians by extremist Israeli settlers. He declined to say, however, exactly what Palestinian changes the United States wished to see.

“It will be up to those leaders in the Palestinian Authority to work through the types of steps that they need to take to reform and update the authority for the situation we face today,” Mr. Sullivan said.

Israeli forces and civilians have killed 276 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem since Hamas’s Oct. 7 surprise attack sparked a full-blown war, according to the United Nations.

During their meeting, Mr. Abbas called for an immediate halt to Israel’s campaign in Gaza, which he labeled “genocide,” according to a statement carried by the Palestinian Authority’s official WAFA news agency. Mr. Abbas also said there was no alternative to a two-state solution in the conflict, the statement said.

Mr. Sullivan on Friday declined to publicly discuss a timetable for the end of the war in Gaza but said there was “no contradiction” between saying that the fighting is going to take months and that during that period there would be a “transition from the high-intensity operations to more targeted operations.”

Mr. Sullivan appeared to win at least one concession from Israel’s leaders during his trip. He said in a statement that Israel’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, informed him Friday that Israel would open its border at the Kerem Shalom crossing for aid shipments directly into Gaza, something the government had resisted.

It was unclear to what degree the opening of the border post would speed up the deliveries of aid into the Gaza, where United Nations officials have described scenes of malnutrition verging on starvation.

“What we need today is not just 100 trucks or 200 trucks — we need meaningful, at scale, uninterrupted and unconditional flow of basic commodities into the Gaza Strip,” Philippe Lazzarini, the director of the United Nations agency that assists Palestinians, told reporters in Geneva on Thursday.

Gaza, he added, was “not really a habitable place anymore.”

United Nations facilities in Gaza have been hit “directly or indirectly” by munitions 150 times since the beginning of the war, he said, and 135 U.N. staff members have been killed.

An Al Jazeera cameraman covering the aftermath of airstrikes at a U.N. school turned shelter in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza, was killed on Friday during an attack, Al Jazeera said, the latest in a string of journalist casualties in the war.

Nearly 70 days after the Oct. 7 attacks that spurred the war, Israelis are beginning to think about how to commemorate the victims of the deadliest day in Israel’s 75-year history. A new installation in a hangar at Tel Aviv’s exhibition grounds seeks to recreate with artifacts some of the essence of Tribe of Nova festival at Re’im, in southern Israel, where scores of ravers were killed.

At least 360 festivalgoers were slain that day, according to the Israeli authorities — nearly a third of the 1,200 people killed in the Hamas-led assault. At the exhibition, tables labeled “Lost and Found” were laden with belongings retrieved from the site, including rows of shoes, eyeglasses, sunglasses, bags and car and house keys.

The attacks left Israelis with a heightened sense of insecurity, a sentiment that has only grown more acute with the near-daily exchanges of rocket fire along Israel’s border with Lebanon and the vow by the Iran-backed Houthi militia that controls northern Yemen to block any vessel sailing to Israeli shipping facilities in the Red Sea.

On Friday, two container shipping companies said they had stopped their vessels from traveling through the Red Sea after attacks on ships in the region.

The German shipping company Hapag-Lloyd said in a statement on Friday that one of its ships, Al Jasrah, had been attacked while traveling close to Yemen’s coast. It said it would pause all container shipping traffic through the Red Sea until Monday.

The Danish shipping company A.P. Moller-Maersk also said it would divert all container shipments through the Red Sea after what the company called a “near miss” on Thursday and another attack on Friday.

The United States military, which has warships in the Red Sea that have intercepted missiles fired by Houthi rebels, ordered the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier to remain in the Mediterranean Sea for several more weeks.

The Pentagon deployed the Ford and its strike group to the eastern Mediterranean the day after the Oct. 7 attacks.

Reporting was contributed by Aaron Boxerman, Isabel Kershner, John Yoon, Gaya Gupta, Johnatan Reiss and Ephrat Livni.


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