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Obama spokesmen urge Israel to exercise greater caution with civilians

WASHINGTON (JTA) — An array of Obama administration spokesmen said Israel had to exercise greater caution in avoiding civilian casualties during the current Gaza conflict, citing shelling on a shelter that killed at least 15 people.

“The Israelis have very high standards — and very public standards — for the precautions that they take to protect civilian lives,” Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement emailed to JTA on Thursday.

“That said, the civilian casualties in Gaza have been too high. The Israelis need to do more to live up to their very high standards for protecting civilian life,” he said.

The White House had initially condemned the shelling Wednesday of an UNRWA school functioning during the current conflict as a shelter, but refrained from ascribing blame; Israel’s army had acknowledged shelling the area, but said it did so only in response to shelling coming from the area.

UNRWA, the relief agency for Palestinian refugees, said later Wednesday that it had evidence that the fire was from Israeli forces, and on Thursday, both Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, and Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, used similar language to blame Israel for the shelling, each saying there was “not a lot of doubt” Israel was responsible.

“That is why we have continued to urge Israeli military officials to live up to their high standards that they have set for the protection of innocent civilians,” Earnest told reporters at the daily briefing, AFP reported. “There is clearly more that can and should be done to ensure the safety of innocent civilians.”

Harf said Gaza’s dense population should be seen as “not an excuse, it’s a fact.”

More than 1,400 Palestinians have been killed since the launch of the conflict on July 8, and 53 Israeli soldiers have been killed, as well as three civilians in Israel.

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