TEL AVIV, Israel (NEWSnet/AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has stepped up calls for Israel to comply with international law during its war against Hamas in Gaza.

On his third trip to the Middle East since the war began on Oct. 7, Blinken said Thursday the U.S. remains committed to supporting Israel’s right to self defense. But he also said it is imperative that Israel protect civilians if it starts major military operations in southern Gaza.

Blinken assured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he could count on U.S. support.

But he added that such support requires Israel’s “compliance with international humanitarian law,” and he “urged Israel to take every possible measure to avoid civilian harm,” the State Department said.

To prevent a further major increase in civilian casualties, Blinken “stressed the imperative of accounting for humanitarian and civilian protection needs in southern Gaza before any military operations there,” the department said.

In addition, Blinken “urged immediate steps to hold settler extremists accountable for violence against Palestinians in the West Bank” and said the U.S. places great importance on the resumption of a peace process that would eventually lead to the creation of a Palestinian state..

Netanyahu’s office released a statement about the meeting with Blinken that contained no mention of settler violence or a two-state solution.

Instead, in a recorded message, Netanyahu noted that his talks with Blinken had taken place shortly after a Hamas-claimed attack in which two Palestinian gunmen opened fire on commuters at the entrance to Jerusalem, killing at least three people.

Netanyahu said he told Blinken, “This is the same Hamas that carried out the terrible massacre on Oct. 7, the same Hamas that tries to murder us everywhere. I told him: We swore, and I swore, to eliminate Hamas. Nothing will stop us.”

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