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US and Israel tensions rise over Gaza

Netanyahu has cancelled a high-level visit to the US to protest a UN Security Council decision calling for an immediate ceasefire which Washington allowed to pass.

Tensions have risen between the US and Israel ahead of a meeting between the two countries’ defence ministers. 

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will meet with Israel’s minister of defence on Tuesday and discuss ways to defeat Hamas other than conducting a ground invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah, the Pentagon said. 

Austin’s planned morning meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is still on, even though Israel abruptly cancelled the visit of a high-level delegation to Washington this week.

Netanyahu cancelled the visit in protest over Monday’s UN Security Council decision calling for an immediate ceasefire. The US abstained, deciding not to use its veto power, and the resolution passed 14-0.

“There are ways to go about addressing the threat of Hamas, while also taking into account civilian safety. A lot of those are from lessons, our own lessons, conducting operations in urban environments,” Pentagon press secretary Pat Ryder said. “I would expect the conversations to cover those kinds of things.”

Israel says it cannot defeat Hamas without going into Rafah, where it says the group has four battalions composed of thousands of fighters.

Israel’s offensive has killed over 32,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials, and driven a third of Gaza’s population to the brink of starvation. It was launched in response to Hamas’ 7 October attack on Israel, which killed some 1,200 people.

Hamas-led militants also took around 250 people hostage. They are still holding around 100 hostages, and the remains of around 30 others, after most of the rest were freed during a cease-fire last year in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners.

The United Nations Security Council resolution calls for a ceasefire during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. 

Netanyahu accused the US of “retreating” from a “principled position” by allowing the vote to pass without conditioning the ceasefire on the release of hostages.

The dispute signals an erosion in the US-Israel relationship that has been under a microscope for months as the military assault on Hamas continues, escalating the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

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