US, Arab partners at loggerheads over calls for ceasefire in Gaza

The United States and Arab partners disagreed Saturday on the need for an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip as Israeli military strikes killed civilians at a U.N. shelter and a hospital, and Israel said the besieged enclave’s Hamas rulers were “encountering the full force” of its troops.

Large columns of smoke rose as Israel’s military said it had encircled Gaza City, the target of its offensive to crush Hamas. The Gaza Health Ministry has said more than 9,400 Palestinians have been killed in the territory in nearly a month of war, and that number is likely to rise as the assault continues.

“Anyone in Gaza City is risking their life,” Israel’s Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Arab foreign ministers in Jordan a day after talks in Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who insisted there could be no temporary cease-fire until all hostages held by Hamas are released.

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said Arab countries want an immediate cease-fire, saying “the whole region is sinking in a sea of hatred that will define generations to come.”

Blinken, however, said “it is our view now that a cease-fire would simply leave Hamas in place, able to regroup and repeat what it did on Oct. 7.” He said humanitarian pauses can be critical in protecting civilians, getting aid in and getting foreign nationals out, “while still enabling Israel to achieve its objective, the defeat of Hamas.”

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan told reporters in Beirut that Blinken “should stop the aggression and should not come up with ideas that cannot be implemented.” The spokesman of the Hamas military wing, who goes by Abu Obeida, said in a speech that fighters had destroyed 24 Israeli vehicles and inflicted casualties in the past two days.

Egyptian officials said they and Qatar were proposing humanitarian pauses for six to 12 hours daily to allow aid in and casualties to be evacuated. They were also asking for Israel to release a number of women and elderly prisoners in exchange for hostages, suggestions Israel seemed unlikely to accept. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the press on the discussions.

Israel has repeatedly demanded that northern Gaza’s 1.1 million residents flee south, and on Saturday it offered a three-hour window for residents to do so. An AP journalist on the road, however, saw nobody coming. The head of the government media office in Gaza, Salama Maarouf, said no one went south because the Israeli military had damaged the road.

But Israel asserted Hamas “exploited” the window to move south and attack its forces. There was no immediate Hamas comment on that claim, which was impossible to verify.

Some Palestinians said they didn’t flee because they feared Israeli bombardment.

“We don’t trust them,” said Mohamed Abed, who sheltered with his wife and children on the grounds of Shifa hospital, one of thousands of Palestinians seeking safety at medical centers in the north.

Swaths of residential neighborhoods in northern Gaza have been leveled in airstrikes. U.N. monitors say more than half of northern Gaza’s remaining residents, estimated at around 300,000, are sheltering in U.N.-run facilities. But deadly Israeli strikes have also repeatedly hit and damaged those shelters. The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees has said it has lost contact with many in the north.

On Saturday, two strikes hit a U.N. school sheltering thousands just north of Gaza City, killing several people in tents in the schoolyard and women who were baking bread inside the building, according to the U.N. agency. Initial reports indicated that 20 people were killed, said spokeswoman Juliette Touma. The health ministry in Gaza said 15 people were killed at the school and another 70 wounded.

Also Saturday, two people were killed in a strike by the gate of Nasser Hospital in Gaza City, according to Medhat Abbas, health ministry spokesman. And a strike hit near the entrance to the emergency ward of Al-Quds Hospital in Gaza City, injuring at least 21, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.

The World Health Organization called attacks on health care in Gaza “unacceptable.”

Also hit was the family home of Hamas’ exiled leader Ismail Haniyeh in the Shati refugee camp on the northern edge of Gaza City, according to the Hamas-run media office in Gaza. It had no immediate details on damage or casualties.

Israel has continued bombing in the south, saying it is striking Hamas targets.

An airstrike early Saturday destroyed a home in the southern town of Khan Younis, with first responders pulling three bodies and six injured people from the rubble. Among those killed was a child, according to an Associated Press cameraman at the scene.

“The sound of explosions never stops,” said Raed Mattar, who was sheltering in a school in Khan Younis after fleeing the north.

At least 1,115 Palestinian dual nationals and wounded have exited Gaza into Egypt, but on Saturday authorities in Gaza didn’t allow foreign passport holders to leave because Israel was preventing the evacuation of Palestinian patients for treatment in Egypt, said Wael Abu Omar, a spokesman for the Palestinian Crossings Authority.

The U.N. said about 1.5 million people in Gaza, or 70% of the population, have fled their homes.

Food, water and the fuel needed for generators that power hospitals and other facilities is running out.

Anger over the war and civilian deaths in Gaza sparked large demonstrations in Paris, Washington, London, Pakistan and elsewhere on Saturday. “Against apartheid, free Palestinians,” a banner in Rome read.

Turkey said it was recalling 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 bombardment.

Thousands of Israelis protested outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem, urging him to resign and calling for the return of roughly 240 hostages held by Hamas. Netanyahu has refused to take responsibility for the Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel that killed more than 1,400 people.

“I find it difficult to understand why trucks with humanitarian aid are going to monsters,” said Ella Ben Ami, whose parents were abducted. She called for aid to be halted until the hostages are released.

Thousands of people also joined a demonstration of hostages’ families in Tel Aviv.

Air raid sirens sounded Saturday evening in southern Israel as Hamas launched rockets into Ashkelon. Rocket fire has continued in the area throughout the conflict, forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes.

Fears continued of a new front opening along Israel’s border with Lebanon. The Israeli military said it had struck terrorist cells in Lebanon trying to fire at Israel, as well as an observation post for Hezbollah, an ally of Hamas. Throughout the war, Israel and Hezbollah have traded fire almost daily.

“We are not interested in a northern front, but we are prepared for any task,” Gallant, Israel’s defense minister, said after touring the border. He said the Air Force is “preserving most of its might for the Lebanon front,” according to a video statement released by his office.

Among the Palestinians killed in Gaza are more than 3,900 Palestinian children, the Gaza Health Ministry said, without providing a breakdown of civilians and fighters.

The Israeli military confirmed four more soldiers have died during the Gaza ground operation, bringing the death toll to 28.

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