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Dozens of former U.S. officials urge Biden to take harder line with Israel

U.S. President Joe Biden visits the Intel Ocotillo Campus, in Chandler

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Nearly 70 former U.S. officials, diplomats and military officers on Wednesday urged President Joe Biden to warn Israel of serious consequences if it denies civil rights and basic necessities to Palestinians and expands settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.

"The United States must be willing to take concrete action to oppose" such practices, the group said in an open letter to Biden, "including restrictions on provision of (U.S.) assistance (to Israel) consistent with U.S. law and policy."

Among the signatories were more than a dozen former ambassadors, as well as other retired State Department officials and former Pentagon, intelligence and White House officials, including Anthony Lake, a national security adviser to former President Bill Clinton.

The letter underscored rising dismay in the United States over Israeli operations against the Gaza Strip's ruling Hamas militants ignited by their Oct. 7 rampage into southern Israel in which they killed some 1,200 people and took 253 hostages.

Much of Gaza has been destroyed and nearly 32,000 Palestinians killed, according to Gaza health authorities. The United Nations says the population of 2.3 million has little food, water and shelter, and food shortages in parts exceed famine levels.

In its letter, the group said that an Israeli military operation against Hamas was "necessary and justified."

But Israel's operations "have been marked by repeated violations" of international law banning indiscriminate killing and the use of weapons that do not permit discrimination between combatants and civilians, the group said.

"Tens of thousands of Gazan civilians have been killed, the majority of whom are women and children," the group said. "Civilian killings of this nature and magnitude cannot be justified."

Israel denies that its operations breach international law.

The group said that it strongly backs Biden's call for an immediate truce of at least six weeks, the establishment of a reliable humanitarian aid delivery system, and the release of hostages.

The signatories also called on the Israeli military to implement rules of engagement consistent with international law.

(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by Stephen Coates)