2/2 © Reuters. Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system intercepts a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, seen from Ashkelon in southern Israel, November 4, 2023. REUTERS/Amir Cohen 2/2
By Nidal al-Mughrabi, Ali Sawafta and Simon Lewis
GAZA/RAMALLAH (Reuters) – Efforts were underway on Sunday to resume the evacuation of foreign nationals and injured Gazans through the Rafah border crossing into Egypt, which had been suspended since Saturday after a deadly attack on an ambulance, Egyptian, U.S. officials said. American and Qatari officials.
Palestinian telecommunications company Paltel said all communications and internet services in the Gaza Strip had been disrupted again due to the ongoing bombardment, while the Gaza Strip Health Ministry said an attack on a refugee camp overnight had killed dozens of people.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called for an immediate Israeli ceasefire during a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Ramallah.
Blinken, who has rejected the idea of a ceasefire by Israel out of fear it would benefit Hamas, made an unannounced visit to the occupied West Bank to prevent an expansion of the Israeli-Hamas war.
Blinken said the Palestinian Authority should play a central role in the future of the Gaza Strip, a U.S. official said after the visit.
The Rafah border crossing with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula is the only exit point from Gaza that is not controlled by Israel. Two Egyptian sources said aid trucks remained able to travel to Gaza.
The evacuations began on Wednesday under an internationally negotiated agreement. More than 300 Americans have left Gaza, but some still remain, said Jonathan Finer, deputy national security adviser.
In the Maghazi refugee camp in Gaza, people searched for victims or survivors.
“All night long, I and the other men tried to pick up the dead from the rubble. We have children, dismembered, torn flesh,” said Saeed al-Nejma, 53, adding that he was sleeping with his family when the explosion hit his neighborhood.
A health ministry spokesman in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip said Israeli forces attacked the camp overnight, killing at least 47 people. Asked for comment, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it was gathering details.
In another attack overnight, 21 Palestinians from a family, including women and children, were killed in attacks, the health ministry said. The IDF declined to comment.
Reuters could not independently verify these accounts.
“We demand that you immediately stop them from committing these crimes,” Abbas told Blinken, calling for an “immediate ceasefire” from Israel.
“There are no words to describe the war of genocide and destruction that our Palestinian people in Gaza are being subjected to by the Israeli war machine, without regard to the rules of international law,” the Palestinian news agency WAFA quoted Abbas Blinken as tellingly.
Foreign ministers from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates met Blinken in Amman on Saturday and also urged him to persuade Israel to agree to a ceasefire.
Pope Francis joined calls for peace. “Stop in the name of God,” he called for humanitarian aid and help for the injured to alleviate the “very serious” situation in Gaza.
But Blinken says a ceasefire would benefit Hamas and allow it to regroup and attack again. Instead, the US wants local pauses in fighting to allow humanitarian aid and people to escape Gaza.
“The secretary reiterated the United States’ commitment to providing life-saving humanitarian assistance and resuming essential services in Gaza,” said spokesman Matthew Miller.
In southern Turkey, police used tear gas and water cannons as hundreds of people at a pro-Palestinian rally tried to storm an air base housing U.S. troops, hours before Blinken was due in Ankara for talks on Gaza on Monday.
Israel says it is targeting Hamas, not civilians, and that Hamas is using residents as human shields.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once again rejected calls for a ceasefire.
“Without the return of our hostages there will be no ceasefire, we say that to both our enemies and our friends. We will continue until we defeat them,” he said.
Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said the IDF was focusing on ground operations in northern Gaza “to free our hostages and liberate Gaza from Hamas.”
“We will adjust our plan to stick to the goals and that will take a long time,” he added.
He said the IDF had uncovered a network of Hamas tunnels, command centers and rocket launchers under and next to hospitals in northern Gaza.
“Hamas is systematically exploiting hospitals as part of its war machine,” Hagari told reporters.
In a statement, Hamas called on the United Nations secretary general to form an international committee to visit hospitals to refute Israel’s “false claims” that Hamas is using them to carry out attacks
Health officials in the Gaza Strip said more than 9,770 Palestinians had been killed in the war, which began when Hamas launched a surprise attack on southern Israel on October 7, killing 1,400 people and taking more than 240 hostage.
Israel said 31 of its soldiers had been killed so far in operations in the Gaza Strip.
Israel continued its air, sea and ground attacks on the Gaza Strip overnight.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said there were also heavy bombardments, artillery explosions and airstrikes near Al-Quds Hospital in the Gaza Strip’s Tal Al-Hawa.
The UN humanitarian office estimates that nearly 1.5 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are internally displaced.
The aid currently reaching Gaza is “far from enough” to meet people’s needs, said Cindy McCain, head of the World Food Program, after a visit to the Rafah border crossing.
“People are living in a terrible nightmare,” McCain said. “Food and water are running out. A steady flow of aid is needed to meet urgent needs.”
Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said that without a “period of calm” in Gaza, its mediators would be unable to secure the release of Israeli hostages held in the enclave.
Since the October 7 attack, the Gulf state has held mediation talks with Hamas and Israeli representatives over the release of hostages in coordination with the United States.
Increasing violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank has fueled fears that it could become a third front in a larger war, in addition to Israel’s northern border, where there have been clashes with Lebanese Hezbollah forces.
An Israeli attack on a car in southern Lebanon left three people dead on Sunday, security sources in Lebanon said.
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