RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — The United States and Arab partners disagreed Saturday over the need for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, as Israeli military strikes killed civilians at a U.N. shelter and a hospital and Israel said the besieged enclave was Hamas The rulers faced “the full force” of their troops.
Large columns of smoke rose as the Israeli military said it had encircled Gaza City, the initial target of its offensive to crush Hamas. Gaza’s Health Ministry said more than 9,400 Palestinians have been killed in the territory in the nearly month-long war and that number is likely to rise as the attack continues.
“Everyone in Gaza City is risking their lives,” said Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.
On the night of Saturday to Sunday, air strikes hit the Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza, and Palestinian health authorities reported several deaths. Maghazi is in the evacuation zone where Israel urged Palestinians to seek refuge.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Arab foreign ministers in Jordan on Saturday following talks in Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who insisted there could be no temporary ceasefire until all hostages held by Hamas were released.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said Arab countries wanted an immediate ceasefire, saying: “The entire region is drowning in a sea of hatred that will shape future generations.”
However, Blinken said, “We now believe that a ceasefire would simply leave Hamas in place and able to regroup and repeat what it did on October 7th.” He said, Humanitarian pauses could be crucial to protect civilians, bring in aid and get foreigners out, “while still allowing Israel to achieve its goal of defeating Hamas.”
As he left church in Delaware on Sunday, US President Joe Biden hinted at progress in efforts to persuade Israel to agree to a humanitarian pause, answering “yes” to reporters’ questions about progress in that area. He didn’t elaborate.
Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan told reporters in Beirut that Blinken should “stop the aggression and not have ideas that cannot be implemented.” The spokesman for Hamas’s military wing, who calls himself Abu Obeida, said in a speech that militants had destroyed 24 Israeli vehicles in the past two days, causing casualties.
Egyptian officials said they and Qatar would propose six to 12-hour daily humanitarian pauses to allow the evacuation of aid and the injured. They also demanded that Israel release a number of women and elderly prisoners in exchange for hostages. Proposals that Israel apparently would not accept. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the press on the discussions.
Israel has repeatedly urged northern Gaza’s 1.1 million residents to flee south, and on Saturday it offered residents a three-hour window to do so. However, an Associated Press journalist saw no one coming along the way. The head of the government media office in Gaza, Salama Maarouf, said no one went south because the Israeli military damaged the road.
But Israel claimed that Hamas “exploited” the window to advance south and attack its forces. There was no immediate comment from Hamas on the claim, which could not be verified.
Some Palestinians said they did not flee because they feared Israeli bombing.
“We don’t trust them,” said Mohamed Abed, who sought refuge with his wife and children in the compound of Al-Shifa hospital, one of thousands of Palestinians seeking shelter in medical centers in the north.
Parts of the residential areas in the north of the Gaza Strip were razed to the ground by air strikes. U.N. monitors say more than half of northern Gaza’s remaining residents, estimated at around 300,000, are seeking refuge in U.N.-run facilities. But these shelters have also been repeatedly hit and damaged by deadly Israeli attacks. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said it had lost contact with many people in the north.
According to the UN agency, there were two attacks on Saturday on a UN school north of Gaza City that housed thousands of people. Several people in tents in the schoolyard and women who were baking bread in the building were killed. Initial reports said 20 people were killed, said spokeswoman Juliette Touma. According to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, 15 people were killed and another 70 injured at the school.
Two people were killed in a strike at the gate of al-Nasser Hospital in Gaza City on Saturday, according to Health Ministry spokesman Medhat Abbas. And a strike broke out near the entrance to the emergency room at Al-Quds Hospital in Gaza City, injuring at least 21 people, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.
The World Health Organization called attacks on health services in Gaza “unacceptable.”
According to the Hamas-run media office in Gaza, the family home of exiled Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in the Shati refugee camp on the northern edge of Gaza City was also hit. There was no immediate information on damage or casualties.
Israel has continued bombing in the south and said it is attacking Hamas targets.
An airstrike destroyed a house in the southern town of Khan Younis early Saturday, with first responders pulling three bodies and six injured people from the rubble. A child was among those killed, according to an AP cameraman at the scene.
“The noise of the explosions never stops,” said Raed Mattar, who sought refuge in a school in Khan Younis after fleeing the north.
At least 1,115 Palestinian dual nationals and wounded have left the Gaza Strip for Egypt, but on Saturday authorities in Gaza did not allow foreign passport holders to leave because Israel prevented the evacuation of Palestinian patients for treatment in Egypt, said Wael Abu Omar, a spokesman for the Palestinian Border Crossing Authority .
According to the United Nations, about 1.5 million people in Gaza, or 70% of the population, have fled their homes.
Food, water and fuel for generators that power hospitals and other facilities are running low.
Anger over the war and the deaths of civilians in Gaza sparked large demonstrations in Paris, Washington, London, Pakistan and elsewhere on Saturday. “Against apartheid, free Palestinians,” read a banner in Rome.
Turkey said it would recall its ambassador to Israel for consultations, and Turkish media reported that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he could no longer speak to Netanyahu in light of the bombing.
Thousands of Israelis protested outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem, calling on him to resign and demanding the return of about 240 hostages held by Hamas. Netanyahu refused to accept responsibility for the Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel that killed more than 1,400 people.
“It’s hard for me to understand why trucks carrying humanitarian aid are going to monsters,” said Ella Ben Ami, whose parents were kidnapped. She called for aid to be stopped until the hostages were released.
Thousands of people also took part in a demonstration by hostage families in Tel Aviv.
Air raid sirens wailed in southern Israel on Saturday evening as Hamas fired rockets into Ashkelon. Rocket fire continued in the area throughout the conflict, forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes.
Fears of a new opening of the front along Israel’s border with Lebanon continued. The Israeli military said it struck militant cells in Lebanon that tried to fire on Israel, as well as an observation post belonging to Hezbollah, a Hamas ally. Firefights between Israel and Hezbollah occurred almost daily throughout the war. Hezbollah and Israel fought a months-long war in 2006 that ended in a tense stalemate.
“We are not interested in a northern front, but we are prepared for any task,” said Gallant, Israel’s defense minister, after a tour of the border. According to a video statement, he said the air force “reserves most of its power for the Lebanon front.”
More than 3,900 Palestinian children were among the Palestinians killed in Gaza, the Gaza Strip Health Ministry said, without providing a breakdown of the number of civilians and fighters.
The Israeli military said four more soldiers were killed in the ground operation in Gaza, bringing the confirmed death toll to 28.
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