Children are seen crying because of Israeli raids

Children are seen crying because of Israeli raids on October 15, 2023 in Khan Yunis, Gaza.

(Photo: Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images)

As Gaza Turmoil Deepens, Some Leaders Dial Back Pro-Israel Rhetoric—But Won't Call for Cease-Fire

Officials in Europe, Canada, and the U.S. have attempted to "backtrack" on the widespread unconditional support that's been expressed in the last week for Israel's assault on Gaza.

The United Nations special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories expressed concern on Sunday that the international body has so far not publicly advocated for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza, as rhetoric from the United States and other influential countries has offered tacit approval of an Israeli air campaign in the blockaded enclave where at least 2,670 Palestinians, including more than 700 children, have now been killed.

Francesca Albanese, who has served as the special rapporteur since 2022, told Al Jazeera that Israel must account for exactly "how the dismantlement of Hamas is happening" as it intensifies what it claims is a war targeting Hamas to retaliate for the group's surprise attack on October 7.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have spent the last week bombing residential buildings, schools housing refugees, healthcare facilities, and at least one convoy of people traveling through Gaza after Israel ordered one million people to leave the northern part of the enclave within 24 hours in order to "save their lives" from continued strikes.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health said Sunday that at least 50 entire families in Gaza have been wiped out from the civil registry, with all their members killed in air strikes and shelling.

"I don't have any sign that [a cease-fire] is being considered even at the U.N. secretary-general level," Albanese told Al Jazeera. "It troubles me because, on one hand, you have Israeli officials saying they want to eliminate Hamas. But what we see on the ground is thousands of people including children being killed and injured."

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has called for "international humanitarian law and human rights law" to be upheld, but has not called for a cessation of the strikes in Gaza.

On social media, Albanese said that "there can be no more delay" of a public call by Guterres for a cease-fire, and that atrocities like the mass displacement and killing of civilians "must not only be punished but also prevented."

The U.N. Security Council was discussing calls for a humanitarian cease-fire "behind closed doors" in New York on Saturday, the Vatican News reported, and other officials over the weekend signaled a retreat from the rhetoric of U.S. President Joe Biden and a number of other Western leaders last week.

Biden and the leaders of the U.K., France, Italy, and Germany said in a joint statement last week that they supported Israel's right "to defend itself" without demanding the country act within the bounds of international law as it unleashed its air campaign and called up 300,000 reservists for a likely ground assault.

Speaking to PBS Newshour Saturday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, "Hamas is not the Palestinian people... so I do not think that the people should pay the price" for Hamas' killing of at least 1,300 people, including nearly 300 soldiers.

The European Council also released its first joint statement on the crisis Sunday, saying Israel has the right to self-defense while respecting "humanitarian and international law" and ensuring "the protection of all civilians at all times."

The council said it would hold a meeting on Tuesday "to get a grip on the response to the war between Israel and Hamas," Irish Times correspondent Naomi O'Leary reported, as European officials, diplomats, and members of the European Parliament have grown concerned about European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen's stated support for what human rights experts have condemned as Israel's "collective punishment" of Palestinians in Gaza.

In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also said Saturday night that he was "deeply concerned by the dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip" as people remained without access to electricity, food, and water.

Al Jazeera journalist Sana Saeed noted that Trudeau was one of the leaders who just days ago was "cheering on Israel's 'right to defend itself,' refusing to condemn the assault on Gaza and loss of Palestinian life" even as the Israeli defense minister called all two million residents of Gaza "human animals" as he announced a "complete siege" on the enclave.

"As the Israeli genocide of Palestinians becomes clearer and harder to defend to the public at large, expect more about-faces, backtracking, and softening of stances of people who have cheered this on," said Saeed.

But such comments are mere "posturing," she added, when they are not accompanied by clear calls for a cease-fire to prevent further loss of civilian lives.

Even as Austin was saying Palestinian civilians should not "pay the price" for Hamas' actions, the U.S. was deploying a second aircraft carrier strike group—the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower—to join the USS Gerald R. Ford in the eastern Mediterranean to demonstrate "U.S. support for Israel's defense."

"Note how any liberals (U.S., Canada, Europe) who are now discussing 'minimizing harm' and the 'humanitarian crisis' make zero demands of a cease-fire, zero calls for even restraint by Israel," said Saeed. "Nothing."

Rights activist and photographer Patience Zalanga suggested some officials are "being hit with the reality that there are more people who aggressively oppose the genocide of Palestinians than they realized," as thousands of Americans—and tens of thousands of people worldwide—have joined protests in recent days to demand a cease-fire in Gaza.

"The United States government does not care any more or less for Palestinians," said Zalanga. "But what they do care about is how bad this looks. And it's only getting worse."

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