Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Friday that “far too many Palestinians have been killed” in Gaza, in the latest indication that the Biden administration is growing increasingly concerned about the civilian death toll under Israel’s bombardment and ground invasion.
“Much more needs to be done to protect civilians and to make sure that humanitarian assistance reaches them,” Mr. Blinken told reporters in New Delhi after a diplomatic tour through Middle Eastern and Asian nations. “Far too many Palestinians have been killed. Far too many have suffered these past weeks. And we want to do everything possible to prevent harm to them and to maximize the assistance that gets to them.”
He added that United States officials would continue to discuss “concrete steps” with Israel to recover at least 240 hostages held by Palestinian militants and get humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip, which Hamas controls.
Mr. Blinken’s remarks also suggested that the Biden administration is stepping up pressure on Israel to do more to limit the harm to civilians in its campaign against Hamas, as outrage grows from the United Nations and many countries over the mounting toll in Gaza. The United States has staunchly supported Israel since Hamas attacked it on Oct. 7, killing about 1,400 people, mostly civilians, but it has also urged Israeli leaders to exercise restraint in their campaign.
President Biden cast doubt last month on the casualty figures released by the Gazan health ministry, which said this week that more than 10,000 people had been killed. But U.S. officials have acknowledged in recent days that thousands of civilians have been killed since Israel began its retaliatory campaign for the Hamas attack.
Asked about Palestinian civilians, American officials have emphasized that they do not have the ability to verify any toll, and said that Hamas uses civilians as human shields.
They have, though, made broad assessments. On Tuesday, the U.S. national security spokesman, John Kirby, told reporters, “There have been many thousands killed, and each one is a tragedy.” On Wednesday, Barbara Leaf, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, told a House committee that U.S. officials thought the civilian casualties were “very high, frankly, and it could be that they’re even higher than are being cited.”
And the Biden administration has been pushing Israel to commit to humanitarian pauses so that more Palestinian civilians could flee to southern Gaza from the north, where Israel has concentrated its ground operation against Hamas. After days of pressure from U.S. officials, Israel agreed to daily four-hour pauses in some areas of northern Gaza, the White House announced on Thursday.
Mr. Kirby said the pauses would facilitate the delivery of humanitarian supplies and possibly help the release of some of the hostages held by Hamas.
American officials have also spoken about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, echoing the warnings of United Nations officials and aid workers that more than a million people have been displaced from their homes. The United Nations has called for a cease-fire, which U.S. and Israeli officials have resisted, arguing that it would give Hamas time to regroup.
The U.N. aid office said on Friday that it could no longer deliver aid to several hundred thousand Palestinians in northern Gaza, where Israel has warned people to flee and where its troops are conducting a ground operation.
“If there is a hell on earth, it’s northern Gaza,” the aid office’s spokesman, Jens Laerke, told reporters on Friday.
He said the Rafah gate, at Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, had been designed as a pedestrian crossing point and was ill-suited for large aid convoys. Only a few convoys have been able to cross the border so far, and U.N. and American officials have said that vastly more is needed to help civilians in Gaza, who face dwindling supplies of food, clean water and medicine.
Nailah Morgan contributed reporting.