Israel has a responsibility to protect the lives of innocent people in Gaza, a senior White House official said on Sunday, as doctors claimed that Israeli authorities had told them to evacuate a key hospital.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan said that Hamas is “hiding” behind civilians but that Israel has a “responsibility under international humanitarian law and the laws in war to do all in their power to protect the civilian population”.
It came as the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said that it had received warnings from Israeli authorities to immediately evacuate the al-Quds hospital in the Gaza Strip. Spokesperson Nebal Farsakh said that Israeli airstrikes had been increasing in the area since Sunday morning, reaching buildings as close as 50 metres away.
At least 8,000 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli military’s bombardment of Gaza in response to Hamas’s brutal incursion on October 7, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Over 1,400 people have died on the Israeli side, mainly civilians killed during the initial attack.
Speaking to ABC News on Sunday, Mr Sullivan said: “There have been deaths of thousands of Palestinian civilians in this conflict and that is an absolute tragedy … Those people did not deserve to die. Those people deserve to live lives of peace and safety and dignity.”
He added: “Israel has a right – indeed a duty – to defend itself against terrorists. Israel also has a responsibility to distinguish between terrorists and ordinary civilians.”
In a separate interview with CNN, Mr Sullivan said that the Israeli Government has a responsibility to “rein in” extremist Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank.
“It is totally unacceptable to have extremist settler violence against innocent people in the West Bank,” he said.
The White House said that President Joe Biden had underscored the need for Israel to defend its citizens from terrorism in a manner that protects civilians during a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday night.
Mr Biden also emphasised "the need to immediately and significantly increase the flow of humanitarian assistance to meet the needs of civilians in Gaza”, they added.
The President later spoke to his Egyptian counterpart, President Sisi, and “committed to the significant acceleration and increase of assistance flowing into Gaza beginning today and then continuously”.
The White House added: “President Biden and President Sisi affirmed their commitment to work together to set the conditions for a durable and sustainable peace in the Middle East to include the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
Meanwhile, the head of the World Health Organisation Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that he was “deeply concerned” by reports that Israeli authorities had told staff to evacuate the al-Quds hospital.
“We reiterate - it’s impossible to evacuate hospitals full of patients without endangering their lives,” he said in a post on X.
“Under International Humanitarian Law, healthcare must always be protected.”
Some 14,000 people were continuing to shelter at the hospital on Sunday night, according to the PCRS. Footage released by the service showed patients and staff sat down or laying on mattresses.
The Israel Defence Forces declined to comment on the reports of an evacuation.
Mr Netanyahu on Saturday announced a “second stage” in the 3-week-old war and said Israel is determined to bring back 229 hostages taken by Hamas. Four of the hostages have been released.
The IDF said on Sunday that its calls for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to evacuate southward were now urgent.
“Over the last two weeks we have been calling on residents of the northern Gaza Strip and Gaza City to relocate southward temporarily. Relocating southward is for their personal safety,” chief spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said in a televised briefing.
Separately, Russian authorities closed an airport on Sunday after footage posted online appeared to show scores of people storming the runway in search of passengers from a flight that had been due to land from Tel Aviv.
Hundreds of people descended on the main airport in Makhachkala, in Russia's Dagestan region. There were no immediate reports of injuries or arrests.
Russian news reports said people in the crowd were shouting antisemitic slogans and tried to storm the airliner belonging to Russian carrier Red Wings that had landed from Tel Aviv.
In a statement released on Sunday night, Mr Netanyahu's office said Israel "expects the Russian law enforcement authorities to protect the safety of all Israeli citizens and Jews wherever they may be and to act resolutely against the rioters and against the wild incitement directed against Jews and Israelis."