US and Arab partners disagree over the need for a cease-fire as Israeli strikes kill more civilians

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Palestinians inspect the rubble in refugee camp, Gaza Strip, Oct. 9, 2023 (AP Photo Hatem Ali)

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 multiple civilians at a U.N. shelter and a hospital in a growing assault on the besieged enclave’s Hamas rulers.

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, and that number is likely to rise as the assault continues.

U.S. 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 the U.S. believes 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.”

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 held by Hamas, suggestions Israel seems 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 as it escalates the bombardment of the north. However, some of those traveling south were killed in recent days, and Israel has continued bombing in the south, saying it is striking Hamas targets.

On Saturday, Israel offered a three-hour window for trapped residents to flee south, but an AP journalist on the road saw nobody coming from the north. 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 that 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 go south for fear of Israeli bombardment.

“We don’t trust them,” said Mohamed Abed, who was sheltering with his wife and children on the grounds of Shifa Hospital.

Wide swaths of residential neighborhoods in northern Gaza have been leveled in airstrikes. Most of northern Gaza’s remaining residents, estimated at around 300,000, have sought shelter in U.N.-run schools and in hospitals. 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-turned-shelter housing 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 reported that 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.

In southern Gaza, an airstrike early Saturday destroyed the home of a family in the 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.

The Israeli military said its ground forces were also operating in the south, with an armored and engineering corps working to remove booby traps from buildings.

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. Aid trucks allowed into Gaza in recent days have contained far more body bags than canned food, said Wael Abu Omar, a spokesperson for the Rafah crossing, the enclave’s only portal to the outside world.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres late Friday urged an immediate cease-fire, calling the humanitarian situation in Gaza “horrific.”

He also urged Hamas to release all of the roughly 240 hostages it has.

Some families of hostages set up camp in Tel Aviv on Saturday.

“I want my army to press on Hamas as much as they can and not give them a second of peace until our sons, our fathers, our mothers and grandmothers and grandfathers are back home,” said one father, Alex Sherman.

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

Turkey announced 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.

Fears continued of a new front opening along Israel’s border with Lebanon. The Israeli military said it had struck militant 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 along the border.

“We are not interested in a northern front, but we are prepared for any task,” Israel’s Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant said after touring the northern 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 Saturday.

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.

More than 1,400 people have died on the Israeli side, mainly civilians killed during Hamas’ initial attack. Twenty-four Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza since the start of the ground operation.

At least 1,115 Palestinian dual nationals and wounded have exited Gaza into Egypt.

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