By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Nov. 02, 2023) -- As Israel defends itself against ongoing attacks by Hamas, defense officials continue to underscore the importance of following the law of war, said the Pentagon press secretary.
"We're having conversations with them about the importance of taking the law of war into account and ... in our discussions with them, we believe that they are taking it into account," said Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder during a briefing today.
The general also said that regular discussions between U.S. defense officials and Israeli leaders emphasize the importance of recognizing all innocent civilian lives and working to ensure the innocent are protected.
"The secretary and other DOD officials are having conversations [daily] with our Israeli counterparts about the situation in Israel and again the importance of protecting innocent lives and taking Palestinians and others into account as they conduct their operations," Ryder said. "We truly want a scenario here where both innocent Palestinians and innocent Israelis can live together peacefully [and] securely."
Nevertheless, he said, Hamas continues to put everybody into danger. As the conflict in the Middle East continues, challenges continue to be posed by Hamas, including how it has embedded itself into civilian populations in Gaza.
"We know that Hamas is integrating its operations, whether it's command and control, operational centers, combat forces, putting rockets in Gaza, to include this complex and sprawling tunnel network underneath infrastructure throughout Gaza, in effect ... using civilians as human shields," he said.
When Hamas attacked Israel Oct. 7, he said, 1,400 individuals were killed and more than 200 hostages were taken to be used as bargaining chips.
"Hamas has said repeatedly that they will continue to do these type of Oct. 7 attacks until Israel is eliminated," Ryder said. "There's no question of the complexity of the challenge that is confronting the Israeli forces as they conduct operations in this urban environment. [But] we also expect Israel to take into account the law of war as they plan and conduct their operations. And we want them to distinguish between terrorists and civilians. And so we'll continue to have those conversations."
Since the initial Hamas attack, Ryder said the department's focus continues to include protecting American forces and citizens in the region, flowing security assistance to Israel, coordinating with Israelis to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas and strengthening the force posture across the region in order to deter any escalation of the conflict beyond Gaza.
"Secretary Austin and DOD leaders are actively engaged in frequent communication with our partners in the region to discuss the situation as we work to prevent this from broadening into a larger regional conflict," Ryder said. "In those discussions, the secretary has also reaffirmed the U.S. emphasis on the protection of civilians and unfettered access for the delivery of humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza."