- Recent Developments:
- US Secretary of State Blinken says Israel must protect civilians it bombards Gaza as it returns to further talks with Israeli leaders as the country’s armed forces launch a ground offensive in Hamas-controlled territory.
- Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari
- It says forces around Gaza City are destroying Hamas infrastructure above and below ground and killing militants.
GAZA/JERUSALEM, Nov 3 (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Friday appealed to Israel to take action to protect civilians in Gaza as Israeli forces continue to bomb the Palestinian territory.
The Israeli military said its troops were fighting close combat with Hamas militants in the desolate streets after encircling Gaza City in an attempt to destroy the Islamist group, which controls the small, densely populated enclave.
With shortages, collapsing medical services and the civilian death toll now exceeding 9,000, Israeli forces pounded Gaza from land, sea and air throughout the night amid global alarm.
Blinken visited the region for the second time in less than a month to show support for close ally Israel in response to an Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants on southern Israeli communities that killed 1,400 people and sparked the war.
Speaking before meeting Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Blinken reiterated that Israel had the right to “do everything possible” to prevent such an attack from happening again.
But he added: “Protecting the civilians caught in the crossfire by Hamas is so important that everything must be done to protect them and help those who need it most. They are responsible for what happened on October 7.”
Washington has rejected calls for a full ceasefire in the Arab and multinational war – now in its 28th day – but prefers temporary and local pauses in fighting to get aid into Gaza and the escape of hostages held by Hamas.
Gaza is running out of food, fuel, water and medicine, buildings have been razed to the ground, and thousands of people have fled their homes to escape the relentless bombardment.
Aid agencies have warned that a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in the bloodiest chapter in decades of the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Blinken spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for nearly an hour before the two met with members of Israel’s emergency cabinet formed after the Hamas attack.
Gaza health officials say at least 9,227 people – many of them women and children – have been killed since Israel launched its crackdown on the enclave of 2.3 million people in retaliation for Hamas rampage in southern Israel.
Israel says Iran-backed Hamas killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and took more than 240 hostages in the deadliest day in its 75-year history.
The Israeli army said its troops and tanks encountered mines and booby-trapped mines as they advanced into Gaza. Hamas militants use a vast network of underground tunnels to carry out hit-and-run attacks.
It said Israeli warplanes, artillery and naval forces struck Hamas targets overnight, killing several militants, including Mustafa Talul, a Hamas commander it said had directed the war in Gaza. There was no immediate confirmation from Hamas.
Gaza City – traditionally a Hamas stronghold – was surrounded, military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said.
“Soldiers are advancing in battles during which they are destroying terrorist infrastructure on and below the ground and eliminating terrorists,” he told a briefing.
Another spokesman, Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, said they were in a complex urban battle. “It was a very, very close quarter battle between our troops and Hamas operatives.”
Israel said it lost 23 soldiers in the attack.
Hamas and its Islamic Jihad allies said their fighters detonated explosives against advancing troops, lobbed grenades from drones and fired mortar and anti-tank rockets in fierce urban warfare around destroyed buildings and piles of rubble.
An Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, killed at least nine members of a local journalist working for official Palestinian television and his immediate family, relatives and health officials said.
The United Arab Emirates, one of the few Arab countries with diplomatic ties to Israel, said on Friday it was working “relentlessly” for an immediate ceasefire, warning that the risk of regional spillover and further escalation was real.
Israel rejected the calls, saying it was targeting Hamas militants it accused of hiding among Gaza’s population and civilian buildings.
Blinken is due to meet Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi in Amman on Saturday. Safadi said in a statement that Israel must end the war on Gaza, where he said it was committing war crimes by bombing and imposing a siege on civilians.
The Rafah crossing from Gaza to Egypt remained open for a third day on Friday for limited evacuations under a Qatar-brokered deal aimed at evacuating some foreign passport holders, their dependents and some injured Gazans from the enclave.
According to border officials, more than 700 foreign nationals left for Egypt through Rafah in the previous two days. Dozens of seriously injured Palestinians also had to cross.
Israel returned about 7,000 Palestinians who had been working in Israel and the West Bank before October 7 to Gaza through Kerem Shalom in the south. Workers reported being detained and mistreated by Israeli authorities.
Hagari said Israel was also “highly prepared” on its northern border with Lebanon, where he said Iranian-backed militias were carrying out operations aimed at distracting them from the war in Gaza.
The United Nations rights office described the situation in the occupied West Bank as “dangerous” on Friday, saying Israeli forces were increasingly using military tactics and weapons in law enforcement operations there.
It said at least 132 Palestinians, including 41 children, were killed in the West Bank, 124 by Israeli forces and 8 by Israeli settlers. Two Israeli soldiers were also killed.
Palestinians trapped in Gaza hoped for a ceasefire soon.
“Is the world waiting for hundreds of thousands of people who refuse to leave their homes, innocent of any crime, but who don’t want to leave their country, to be massacred by Israel?” said one.
Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Dan Williams, Emily Rose, Mytal Angel in Jerusalem, Clada Danios, Patricia Zengerle in Dubai, Bill Stewart and Idris Ali in Washington; Additional reporting by Reuters Bureau Worldwide; Written by Michael Perry and Angus MacSwan; Editing by Mirel Fahmy, Andrew Cawthorne and Mark Heinrich
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