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Israel tightens encirclement of Gaza City as Blinken calls for more protection of civilians – otherwise there will be ‘no partners for peace’


US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday urged Israel to provide more humanitarian aid and do more to protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza or there will be “no partners for peace”. Meanwhile, Israel warned it was on high alert for attacks on its northern border with Lebanon, as fears grew of a possible extension of the conflict.

Israeli troops have tightened their encirclement of Gaza City, the center of their campaign to crush ruling Hamas militants in the enclave, who have launched a brutal attack on Israeli communities that started the war.

But since Assault of October 7some fear the conflict could spark fighting on other fronts, and Israel and the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group have repeatedly exchanged fire along the Lebanese border.

In his first public speech since the start of the war, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said his group had “entered the battle” with the unprecedented cross-border fighting in recent weeks. “We will not limit ourselves to that,” he said, suggesting escalation was possible. Yet Nasrallah did not announce that Hezbollah was fully committing to the war.

Blinken, on his third trip to Israel since the war began, reiterated U.S. support for Israel in the war, saying it had the right to defend itself. But he said a “humanitarian pause” was needed to increase aid deliveries to Palestinian civilians amid growing concern over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

“We believe that each of these efforts would be facilitated by humanitarian pauses and by arrangements on the ground that enhance the security of civilians and enable more effective and sustainable delivery of humanitarian assistance,” Blinken told reporters.

And he reiterated Washington’s long-standing support for the eventual recognition of a Palestinian state: “Two states for two peoples. Once again, this is the only way to ensure lasting security for a Jewish and democratic Israel .”

Watch: Blinken answers questions in Tel Aviv, calls for humanitarian pause and more aid to Gaza

After meeting with Blinken, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel “refuses a temporary ceasefire that does not include the return of our hostages,” referring to the approximately 240 people kidnapped by Hamas during its attack. He said Israel was continuing its military offensive with “all its might.”

Blinken said there must be a substantial and immediate increase in humanitarian aid to Gaza and added: “We must do more to protect Palestinian civilians.”

“We have made clear that as Israel carries out its campaign to defeat Hamas, how it does it matters,” Blinken said at a news conference. “It is important because it is the right and legal thing to do. It is important because not doing it plays into the hands of Hamas and other terrorist groups. There will be no partners for the peace if they are consumed by a humanitarian catastrophe and alienated by any group. perceived indifference to their plight.

“High readiness”

Hamas ally Hezbollah attacked Israeli military positions in northern Israel on Thursday with drones, mortar fire and suicide drones. The Israeli military said it responded with warplanes and helicopter gunships, and spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said civilians were injured in the Hezbollah attacks.

“We are in a high state of readiness in the north, on very high alert, to respond to any events today and in the coming days,” he said.

Blinken said the United States, which has deployed aircraft carriers and other forces to the eastern Mediterranean, was determined to ensure that no “second or third front” opens in the conflict, referring to Hezbollah .

In his speech, Nasrallah said his militia was not deterred by US warnings, saying: “Your fleets in the Mediterranean… will not scare us.”

A war with Hezbollah would be devastating for Israel and Lebanon. Hezbollah is far stronger than Hamas, with an arsenal of some 150,000 rockets and missiles, some considered precision-guided weapons capable of striking deep inside Israel.

Israel has vowed to unleash widespread destruction in Lebanon if all-out war breaks out, accusing Hezbollah of hiding its military installations amid residential areas. The two foes fought an inconclusive, month-long war in 2006. Renewed fighting could also risk drawing Iran, which supports both Hamas and Hezbollah, into the conflict.

More than 9,200 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza so far, mostly women and minors, and more than 23,000 people have been injured, Gaza’s health ministry said, without providing a civilian breakdown. and fighters.

More than 1,400 people died on the Israeli side, mostly civilians killed in the first Hamas attack, in which some 240 people were also taken hostage. Some 5,400 people were also injured.

Twenty-four Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza since the ground operation began. Since the start of the war, seven Israeli soldiers and one civilian have been killed in various incidents along the Israel-Lebanon border.

As U.S. officials have done before, Blinken pledged unwavering support for Israel and its right to defend itself.

Soldiers from an Israeli artillery unit operate near the border with the Gaza Strip November 3, 2023 in Sderot, Israel.

Amir Lévy / Getty Images

“We strongly support the proposition that Israel has not only the right but also the obligation to defend itself and ensure that the events of October 7 do not happen again,” said Blinken, who also plans to visit Amman, Jordan. It follows that of President Joe Biden suggestion of a humanitarian “pause” in the fights. The goal would be to authorize aid to the Palestinians and let out more Palestinians with foreign passports and the wounded.

Around 800 people left Gaza over the past two days – the first time people have left the besieged territory outside of four hostages released by Hamas and another rescued by Israeli forces.

Blinken first spoke with Netanyahu behind closed doors before beginning broader discussions with the leader and his war cabinet and meeting with President Isaac Herzog.

“Nothing will stop us”

More than 3,700 Palestinian children have been killed in 25 days of fighting, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry. The bombings have driven more than half of the territory’s 2.3 million inhabitants from their homes. Food, water and fuel are running out under Israeli siege, and overwhelmed hospitals warn they are on the brink of collapse.

CBS News correspondent Ramy Inocencio reported Friday that in Gaza, Israeli bombings have not stopped for several days around the enclave’s second largest hospital, Al Quds, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society .

Further south in central Gaza, survivors are extracting victims of an Israeli airstrike on the Bureij refugee camp where around 45,000 Palestinians live, Inocencio reported. At least 15 people died, according to the Hamas-led Gaza Civil Defense.

The video shows a father sitting next to his injured sons, shouting and pointing at his children: “Film for everyone, here are the ones firing the rockets, film for everyone. Here they are, here they are, America. Here they are, Israel. They are children.

Israel has allowed more than 260 trucks carrying food and medicine into Gaza, but aid workers say this is not enough. Israeli authorities refused to allow fuel entry, saying Hamas was stockpiling fuel for military purposes and would steal new supplies.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the United States was not advocating a blanket ceasefire but a “temporary, localized” pause.

Israel has not openly responded to Mr. Biden’s suggestion. But Netanyahu, who had previously ruled out a ceasefire, said on Thursday: “We are moving forward. … Nothing will stop us.” He promised to destroy Hamas’ power in the Gaza Strip.

Israel and the United States do not appear to have a clear plan for what would happen if Hamas’ power in Gaza is toppled – a key issue on Blinken’s agenda during his visit, according to the State Department .

Meanwhile, military officials said Israeli forces have now completely surrounded Gaza City, a group of densely populated neighborhoods that Israel says is the center of Hamas’ military infrastructure and includes a vast network of tunnels underground, bunkers and command centers.

Israeli forces “are fighting in a built-up, dense and complex area,” army chief of staff Herzi Halevy said.

Hagari, the military spokesman, said Israeli forces were engaging in “face-to-face” fighting with the militants, calling for airstrikes and bombings if necessary. He said they were inflicting heavy losses on Hamas fighters and destroying their infrastructure with engineering equipment.

Hamas’ military wing said Friday morning that its fighters had fought Israeli troops in several areas of Gaza and claimed to have killed four soldiers on the northern edge of the town of Beit Lahiya. He also claimed to have destroyed several tanks with locally made anti-tank rockets.

Neither the reports from Israel nor Hamas could be independently verified.

Casualties on both sides are expected to increase as Israeli troops advance toward dense residential neighborhoods in Gaza City. Israel warned residents to immediately evacuate the Shati refugee camp, which borders the center of Gaza City.

But hundreds of thousands of Palestinians remain on the path of fighting in northern Gaza, despite Israel’s repeated calls for them to flee. Many gathered at UN facilities, hoping to be safe.

Yet four UN schools turned into shelters in northern Gaza and Bureij have been hit in recent days, killing 24 people, according to Philippe Lazzarini, secretary-general of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, known as the name of UNRWA.

In the occupied West Bank, Israeli forces killed seven Palestinians in different locations overnight and arrested many others, according to Israeli military and Palestinian health officials.


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