Americas, Middle East

US says 'Israel has a right to try and target those civilians' in gaffe

State Department says spokesperson misspoke, intended to say 'Hamas' rather than 'civilians'

Michael Hernandez  | 06.06.2024 - Update : 07.06.2024
US says 'Israel has a right to try and target those civilians' in gaffe Matthew Miller


The State Department said Thursday that "Israel has a right to try and target those civilians" in response to questions about an attack on a UN school in central Gaza that killed dozens of people. The remarks were quickly corrected.

Asked by reporters about the overnight strike on the facility where about 6,000 people had sought shelter, spokesperson Matthew Miller said, "It is a difficult situation. If it is true that you have this site where Hamas is hiding inside a school, other militants are hiding inside of the school, those individuals are legitimate targets, but at the same time, they're embedded near civilians."

"Israel has a right to try and target those civilians, but they also have the obligation to minimize civilian harm, and take every step possible to minimize civilian harm," he said. "So that's why we're pressing the government of Israel, and the IDF, to be completely transparent about what happened here."

Asked by Anadolu about the spokesperson's remarks, the State Department said Miller misspoke, and that he intended to say "Hamas" rather than "civilians." A footnote with the correction is expected to be added to the official department transcript of Thursday's briefing.

Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), said Thursday that the Israeli strike killed 35 people and left "many more injured" when it struck the facility without any prior warning to the thousands of people who were sheltering there.

"Another horrific day in Gaza. Another UNRWA school turned shelter attacked. This time in Nuseirat, in the Middle Areas, hit overnight by the Israeli Forces without prior warning to the displaced or UNRWA," he wrote on X.

"Attacking, targeting or using UN buildings for military purposes are a blatant disregard of International Humanitarian law. UN staff, premises and operations must be protected at all times," he added.

The Israeli military admitted hitting the UNRWA school in the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, claiming Hamas fighters were hiding inside.

Lazzarini said the UN is "unable to verify these claims."

Nearly 200 UN staffers – exactly 192 – have been killed in Gaza, according to the latest information provided by UNRWA. A further 186 agency facilities have been damaged.

Israel has mounted its sweeping offensive on Gaza since an Oct. 7 Hamas attack that killed less than 1,200 people.

More than 36,600 Palestinians have since been killed in Gaza, most of them women and children, and over 83,000 others injured, according to local health authorities. Vast tracts of Gaza also lay in ruins amid a crippling blockade of food, clean water and medicine.

Israel is accused of genocide at the International Court of Justice, whose latest ruling has ordered Tel Aviv to immediately halt its operation in the southern city of Rafah, where more than 1 million Palestinians had sought refuge from the war before it was invaded on May 6.

Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.