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Up to 400,000 people along Gaza front after Israel rejects ‘pause’

AMMAN, Jordan — Facing intense bombardment and warned by Israel to immediately evacuate, up to 400,000 people remain in northern Gaza as Israeli tanks and ground troops rush to destroy Hamas strongholds and liberate the hostages, U.S. officials said Saturday.

An additional 800,000 to 1 million residents have fled to southern areas of Gaza, but still face intense Israeli bombardment as the Gaza war approaches its first month.

On Saturday, during a three-hour window, Israel offered Gaza residents a passage to travel south on the Salah al-Din road, the main motorable highway that stretches nearly 40 km from the Gaza Strip .

The Israeli military now calls southern Gaza a “safer zone”, instead of calling it a security zone. Intense bombardment is still taking place in the south – and many Gazans say they feel no place offers refuge from attacks and invasion.

Drinking water is running out in Gaza. This could lead to more deaths.

The Gaza Health Ministry estimated on Saturday that 2,200 people, including 1,250 children, are buried under the rubble of destroyed buildings in Gaza. In total, according to health authorities, more than 9,400 people were killed, including a large number of women and children.

Biden administration is pushing Israel for brief ‘humanitarian pauses’ in fighting – to allow aid in and people out – and to significantly increase the amount of supplies flowing to Gaza, special envoy says American for Humanitarian Issues in the Middle East, David Satterfield. journalists on Saturday in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

After meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday in Tel Aviv, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly rebuffed US pressure, refusing “a temporary ceasefire that does not include the return of the hostages.” Israel and the Biden administration believe a complete ceasefire would benefit Hamas.

About 100 to 120 trucks now arrive each day, Satterfield said, compared to 400 to 500 daily before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack in Israel that claimed 1,400 lives and left more than 200 hostages in the hands of the militants. .

Among the challenges of increasing aid shipments to Gaza are the enormous scale of the needs, as well as fears of possible looting of trucks and the safety of drivers.

At a meeting in Amman, U.S. and Arab leaders clashed Saturday over whether Israel should end its Gaza offensive, as regional leaders said the heavy toll in Palestinian civilian casualties would radicalize a generation and accused Israel of crossing the line from self-defense to war. crimes.

Blinken defended what he said was the need for Israel to eliminate Hamas as a threat to the security of its citizens. But he said he recognized that Israel needed to be alert to civilian casualties and that leaders had been working on practical steps to try to get more humanitarian aid into Gaza to ease civilian suffering there.

Tensions were on display as Blinken stood alongside the foreign ministers of Jordan and Egypt while his two counterparts denounced the Israeli offensive in highly emotional terms, saying Palestinian civilians were being dehumanized after a Hamas attack for which they were in no way responsible.

Blinken described his own pain as he saw Palestinian children suffering in the rubble – but he added: “We believe a ceasefire now would simply leave Hamas in place, able to regroup and repeat which he did on October 7. » said.

“Protecting civilians will help prevent Hamas from further exploiting the situation. But more importantly, it is simply the right and moral thing to do,” Blinken said.

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Blinken’s counterparts in the region said the humanitarian situation was so dire in Gaza that it was impossible, for now, to focus on anything else.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said: “With every missile fired into Gaza, with every killing of a Palestinian child… the entire region sinks into an ocean of hatred that will define generations to come, and which is already beginning to manifest. »

Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister, called on Israel to adopt an immediate “unconditional” ceasefire.

But Blinken said Washington and Arab states believe the status quo of a Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip cannot continue.

The United States, meanwhile, is trying to find ways to deliver more aid to southern Gaza through Egypt’s Rafah border crossing, the only route connecting Gaza that is not controlled by Israel.

The Biden administration is not aware that Hamas intercepted the aid, Satterfield said, nor does it believe that the Israeli military campaign against Hamas in Gaza has affected aid shipments.

In a meeting with Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati in Amman, Blinken said he “shared his deep concern” over exchanges of fire along Lebanon’s southern border between Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israel.

Speaking live via video on Friday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah stopped short of announcing a full escalation in his first public comments since the Gaza war began. But all options remain “on the table,” warned Nasrallah.

A senior State Department official said up to 600 aid trucks were needed each day in Gaza and that the United States was pushing to create the conditions to make that possible. A Gaza border spokesman said no one crossed Rafah into Egypt on Saturday.

While diplomats spoke in Amman, Israel continued its bombing campaign on Gaza.

An Israeli strike on an ambulance outside Gaza City’s largest hospital on Friday killed at least 15 people and injured 60 others, Gaza’s health ministry said. The Israeli military confirmed its planes targeted the ambulance, which it said was “used by” Hamas militants. Videos reviewed by The Washington Post showed women and children among the dead, and no weapons or people wearing military clothing were visible.

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said one of its schools in northern Gaza, which housed displaced families in the Jabalya refugee camp, was hit on Saturday. It indicates that “one strike hit the schoolyard” and another “hit the inside of the school where the women were baking bread.”

UNRWA said children were among those killed, adding that it was unable to verify the exact number of victims. Gaza’s health ministry said at least 15 people were killed and more than 70 injured.

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said “at least one strike hit the schoolyard” and another “where women were breaking bread.” (Video: The Washington Post)

A strike near the entrance to al-Quds hospital injured 21 displaced people and caused damage on site, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society announced on Saturday. Videos shared by the Red Crescent and verified by video analysis group Storyful showed a large cloud of smoke from an apparent strike near the same hospital.

In southern Gaza, photos showed Palestinians rushing early Saturday to rescue survivors from the rubble of a building in Khan Younis, a part of the territory where Israel has called on Gazans to shelter as it was expanding its land operations in the enclave.

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment on reports of strikes in Khan Younis, the UNRWA school or al-Quds hospital.

“The morgues are overflowing. The stores are empty. The health situation is catastrophic,” declared UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “We are seeing an increase in respiratory illnesses and conditions, particularly among children. An entire population is traumatized. Nowhere is safe.

Morris reported from Tel Aviv, Booth from Jerusalem. Miriam Berger in Tel Aviv, Victoria Bisset in London and Kareem Fahim in Beirut contributed to this report.

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