Israel needs to “distinguish between terrorists and innocent civilians and to protect the lives of innocent civilians,” U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Sunday of Israel’s ongoing war against Hamas.

Sullivan’s comments to CBS News’s Margaret Brennan came as the war reached a new stage this weekend, as Israel expanded its ground forces in Gaza while ratcheting up its aerial bombardment of the territory.

In multiple U.S. television interviews on Sunday morning, Sullivan said the U.S. is continuing to ask “hard questions” of Israel as it conducts its military operations, which so far have killed over 7,000 Palestinians, including nearly 3,000 children, according to the Gazan health ministry, which Hamas controls. Sullivan called the deaths of Palestinian civilians a “tragedy.”

“Every hour, every day of this military operation, the IDF [Israel Defense Forces], the Israeli government should be taking every possible means available to them to distinguish between Hamas terrorists who are legitimate military targets and civilians who are not,” Sullivan said on CNN. He added that President Joe Biden will reiterate this position in a call Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sullivan also said Sunday that Netanyahu must “rein in” extremist Jewish settlers in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where violence against Palestinians has erupted in the three weeks since the October 7 Hamas attack, in which more than 1,400 Israelis were killed. “It is totally unacceptable to have extremist settler violence against innocent people in the West Bank,” Sullivan said. Last week, President Biden described the settler attacks as “pouring gasoline on the fire” of the conflict.

But Sullivan also said that when it comes to Israel’s specific military milestones in the unfolding conflict in Gaza, “that is something that ultimately is up to Israel. This is their military operation [and] they will make that decision.”

In response to Sullivan’s call for “humanitarian pauses” in the conflict to get hostages out of Gaza, Brennan noted that the U.S. was one of just 14 countries that voted on Friday against a U.N. resolution calling for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce” between the IDF and Hamas militants.

“What a lot of people are calling for is just a stop to Israeli military action against terrorists, period. Just stop, no more. ‘Israel cannot go after terrorists who conducted this largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust,’” Sullivan responded. “We have taken the position that Israel has a right to defend itself against terrorist attacks.”

“There are a lot of complicated realities,” he added. “A humanitarian pause would be a good thing to get hostages out, but you can bet that Hamas will try to use that time to their advantage as well.”

Sullivan also dismissed calls for a ceasefire, which grew louder this weekend when both Pope Francis and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Gutierrez issued demands for what the latter called “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire,” citing a “humanitarian catastrophe” that is “unfolding in front of our eyes.”

“From the point of view of a ceasefire, what Israel suffered on October 7 was the equivalent of fifteen 9/11s,” Sullivan said. “After 9/11, if the terrorists had simply said, ‘We want a ceasefire,’ I don’t think the United States would have said, ‘We’re gonna stop going after terrorists.’”


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