Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers who personally urged the Israeli prime minister to change strategy in the war against Hamas to minimize civilian casualties.

During a virtual news conference with Maine media on Tuesday, King said he returned Sunday from a four-day trip to Israel and the Middle East during which the group had a lengthy face-to-face meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I believe the prime minister was listening,” King said. “The point we did make to Netanyahu is the way Israel was conducting the war, particularly the amount of civilian casualties, is absolutely to the detriment of Israel’s long-term interest.”

Joining King on the trip were Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, of New York; Mark Kelly, of Arizona; Jon Ossoff, of Georgia; and Mark Warner, of Virginia.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, sitting at right next to U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, listens to a roundtable discussion with Michael Ratney, U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. King, Gillibrand and other senators visited the Middle East during a trip last weekend that included a discussion with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo courtesy of Sen. Angus King’s office

King said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who visited Israel a day or two after the congressional delegation, carried a similar message to Netanyahu, urging Israel to minimize civilian casualties in its efforts to combat Hamas.

The Israeli government on Monday said it was changing strategies against Hamas, and was shifting from a “large-scale ground and air campaign in the Gaza strip to a more targeted phase,” The New York Times reported.


The transition to a more limited war is expected to be completed by the end of January, the Times said.

King and the rest of Maine’s congressional delegation, along with most members of Congress and President Biden, strongly condemned Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7, during which the militants killed some 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and abducted around 250 others, nearly half of whom were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November. The U.S. has continued to support Israel’s right to defend itself by removing Hamas from power, but leaders also have increasingly called on Israeli leaders to do more to reduce civilian casualties in Gaza.

Since the war began, Israel’s assault in Gaza has killed more than 23,200 Palestinians, roughly 1% of the territory’s population, and more than 58,000 people have been wounded, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza. About two-thirds of the dead are women and children. The death toll does not distinguish between combatants and civilians.

Though Israel faces intense global pressure for a cease-fire as the Palestinian civilian death toll rises, King said the lawmakers did not call for a cease-fire because that could give Hamas time to “re-arm and re-equip,” but rather urged for a change in strategy to reduce civilian deaths.

He said it’s hard to know what went into Netanyahu deciding to shift tactics, but he “suspects” the congressional delegation had an impact.

“I think it had a significant impact because you had a bipartisan delegation essentially from the center of the Senate saying ‘You have to change your ways,’ ” King said.


He said the large number of underground tunnels in Gaza – constructed for military purposes – makes it difficult to wage an effective ground campaign against Hamas fighters. But he said Israel should focus on more “targeted” attacks against Hamas’ military leaders.

King said the delegation also pressed for increases in humanitarian aid to Israel, which is currently beset by logistical problems restricting the flow of supplies.

According to Voice of America radio, Blinken’s meeting with Netanyahu “stressed the importance of avoiding further civilian harm and protecting civilian infrastructure in Gaza,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said. The U.S. also is working to try to get Hamas to release more than 100 hostages that remain.

Blinken also was mustering support from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey to plan for Gaza’s reconstruction once the Israel-Hamas war ends. And Blinken also was trying to defuse tensions between Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Israel, with fears of a wider war rising. Israel killed a Hamas leader in Beirut, and Hezbollah has since used exploding drones to target the Israeli military.

King said months ago that he planned to visit the region after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

In the months since then, Israel has carried out a devastating counterattack it says is necessary to remove Hamas from Gaza. The rising death toll among civilians has fueled intense criticism of Israel, and of the United States for not withholding support for the war.


Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, was part of a bipartisan delegation that went to Israel in October, before the launch of the ground offensive.

King’s delegation also met with Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince and prime minister of Saudi Arabia; Yael Lempert, U.S. ambassador to Jordan; and Israeli Defense Minister Yoay Gallant.

This report contains material from The Associated Press.


Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.