US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Israeli leaders on Friday to call for humanitarian pauses in the Gaza conflict as Israeli troops surrounded the largest city in the Palestinian enclave, the center of its campaign to eliminate Hamas.
Israeli forces pounded the Gaza Strip from the ground, sea and air throughout the night, amid global concern over shortages, the collapse of medical services and a rising death toll among civilians.
Hamas and its Islamic Jihad ally said their fighters detonated explosives against advancing troops, dropped grenades from drones and fired mortars and anti-tank rockets in violent urban warfare around destroyed buildings and piles rubble in Gaza City.
Blinken, on his second trip to Israel in a month, was to discuss with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu measures to minimize harm to civilians in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, where food, fuel, Water and medicine are running out, buildings have been razed and thousands of people have fled their homes to escape the incessant bombing.
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The White House has said any pause in fighting should be temporary and localized. He rejected calls from Arab countries and several other countries for a complete ceasefire in the war, which is now in its 28th day.
Hamas-run Gaza health authorities say at least 9,061 people – many of them women and children – have been killed since Israel began its assault on the enclave of 2.3 million. residents, in retaliation for deadly attacks by Hamas militants in southern Israel.
Israel says Iran-backed Hamas killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and took more than 240 hostages in attacks on October 7, the deadliest day in its 75-year history.
The Israeli military said its warplanes, artillery and navy struck Hamas targets overnight, killing several militants, including Mustafa Dalul, a Hamas commander who it said had led the fighting in Gaza . There was no immediate confirmation from Hamas.
Gaza City – traditionally a Hamas stronghold – has been surrounded, the military spokesman Rear Admiral said. » said Daniel Hagari.
“Soldiers are advancing in the fighting, during which they are destroying terrorist infrastructure above and below ground and eliminating terrorists,” he said at a press briefing.
Overnight, they discovered large caches of weapons, protective equipment, communications equipment and maps, he said.
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In an Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, a local journalist working for the official Palestine Television and at least nine members of his immediate family were killed in their home, relatives and officials said. health.
In one of the sharpest criticisms of Israel by a European leader, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said it had the right to defend itself and drive out Hamas, but that the assault against Gaza also seemed to be turning into “revenge”.
The United Arab Emirates, one of the few Arab states with diplomatic ties with Israel, said Friday it was working “tirelessly” for an immediate ceasefire, warning that the risk of regional spillover and a new escalation was real.
Israel has rejected the calls, saying it targets Hamas fighters whom it accuses of intentionally hiding among the population and civilian buildings.
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Blinken is scheduled to meet Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi in Amman on Saturday. Safadi said in a statement that Israel must end its declared war on Gaza, where it said it was committing war crimes by bombing civilians and imposing a siege.
The Israeli military says it strives to minimize civilian casualties, but that Hamas integrates itself among civilians. He said his troops and tanks encountered mines and booby traps as they advanced into Gaza. Hamas fighters used a vast network of underground tunnels to stage hit-and-run attacks.
Israel claims to have lost 23 soldiers in the offensive.
Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas’ military wing, said in a televised speech that Israel’s death toll in Gaza was much higher. “Your soldiers will return in black bags,” he said.
Two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States was flying intelligence-gathering drones over Gaza to help locate the hostages.
The Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt was set to open Friday for a third day for limited evacuations under a Qatar-brokered deal to allow some foreign passport holders, their dependents and some Gazans injured from leaving the enclave.
According to border authorities, more than 700 foreign citizens left for Egypt via Rafah in the previous two days. Dozens of seriously injured Palestinians were also expected to cross. Israel has asked foreign countries to send them hospital ships.
Israel also returned around 7,000 Palestinians who worked in Israel and the West Bank before October 7 to Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing in the south. The workers said they were arrested and mistreated by Israeli authorities.
Those living in Gaza City and the north will have to find refuge elsewhere as Israeli forces have cut off the roads.
Israeli spokesman Hagari said Israel was also “highly prepared” on its northern border with Lebanon, where he said Iranian-backed militants were carrying out actions in a bid to distract it from war in Gaza.