The US Secretary of Defense denounces the Israeli strike against humanitarian workers in Gaza

In a tense phone call Wednesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III rebuked his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, for Israel's deadly attack on a humanitarian food convoy in Gaza earlier this week.

“Secretary Austin expressed his outrage over the Israeli attack on a World Central Kitchen relief convoy that killed seven aid workers, including an American citizen,” Maj. Gen. said in a statement Wednesday evening. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, describing the phone call.

“Secretary Austin stressed the need to immediately take concrete measures to protect aid workers and Palestinian civilians in Gaza after repeated failures to coordinate with foreign aid groups,” General Ryder said.

While Austin's comments echoed President Biden's forceful language – “outraged and heartbroken” – about the killing of aid workers, they still marked a significant shift in the US secretary's tone from that of previous calls with Gallant that the Pentagon summed up. The two men, both former army generals, have spoken more than 40 times since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attacks on Israel.

Despite the tough language, there was no indication that Austin had threatened to stop the flow of American munitions or place conditions on the sale of U.S. weapons to Israel, as many Democrats in Congress are now urging. In this sense, Mr. Austin loses nothing by talking tough.

The secretary's anger over the Israeli airstrike on the humanitarian convoy comes a week after the two men argued in private meetings in Washington over Israel's plan to invade the southern city of Rafah, where U.S. officials warned that a major military action could lead to catastrophe.

During the March 26 meeting, Gallant emphasized what he said was the urgent need to destroy Hamas, secure the release of Israelis taken hostage in the October 7 attacks and “guarantee Israel's military advantage and capabilities.” Austin focused on the dire consequences that a major combat operation in Rafah would have on Palestinian civilians.

In Wednesday's phone call, Mr. Austin urged Mr. Gallant to conduct a swift and transparent investigation into the convoy attack, to share their findings publicly and to hold those responsible to account, General Ryder said, a request made previously . by White House officials.

The secretary said that “this tragedy has reinforced concerns expressed about a potential Israeli military operation in Rafah, focusing in particular on the need to ensure the evacuation of Palestinian civilians and the flow of humanitarian aid,” General Ryder said.

Mr. Austin emphasized to Mr. Gallant that Israel's attack on the humanitarian convoy makes it more difficult to get desperately needed aid to Gaza, which the secretary said will need to be increased in the coming days, especially in northern Gaza, to avert famine, General Ryder said.

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