US to call on Israel to implement humanitarian pauses in Gaza
GAZA/JERUSALEM, Nov 3 (Reuters) - The top U.S. diplomat planned on Friday to urge Israel to agree to multiple pauses in its war against Hamas militants in Gaza to allow humanitarian aid to enter and help people safely exit while Israel said it encircled the Palestinian enclave's biggest city.
By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams
With the Hamas-Israel conflict nearing the end of its fourth week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to visit Israel on Friday for the second time in a month and meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials.
Israel’s military late on Thursday said it had surrounded Gaza City, the seaside enclave’s primary city and the focus of Israel’s drive to annihilate the Islamist group. Hamas militants fought back with hit-and-run attacks from underground tunnels.
“We’re at the height of the battle. We’ve had impressive successes and have passed the outskirts of Gaza City. We are advancing,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
As Blinken left Washington for the Middle East, he said he would discuss in Israel concrete steps to minimise harm to civilians in Gaza. Mounting casualties among Palestinian civilians — along with worsening shortages of food, water, medicine and fuel — have sparked global pressure for a humanitarian break in fighting.
Israel has dismissed those calls, saying it targets the Hamas fighters whom it accuses of intentionally hiding among the population and civilian buildings.
The latest conflict began when Hamas militants broke through Israel’s border on Oct. 7. Israel says they killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and took more than 240 hostages in the deadliest day of its 75-year-old history.
Israel’s ensuing bombardment of the small Palestinian enclave of 2.3 million killed at least 9,061 people, according to Gaza health authorities.
While reiterating opposition to a full ceasefire, the White House said on Thursday it was looking into a series of pauses in the conflict. U.S. national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that such pauses should be temporary and localized, and he insisted they would not stop Israel from defending itself.
“What we’re trying to do is explore the idea of as many pauses as might be necessary to continue to get aid out and to continue to work to get people out safely, including hostages,” he told reporters.
Two U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the U.S was flying intelligence-gathering drones over Gaza to help locate hostages. One of the officials said they had been carrying out the drone flights for over a week.
On his trip, Blinken also was due to meet Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi in Amman on Saturday. In a statement, Safadi said Israel must end the war on Gaza, where he said it was committing war crimes by bombing civilians and imposing a siege.
In Geneva, a group of seven U.N. special rapporteurs, independent experts monitoring human rights, issued a statement calling for a ceasefire, saying Palestinians were at “grave risk of genocide”. The Israeli mission to the U.N. in Geneva called the comments “deplorable and deeply concerning” and blamed Hamas for civilian deaths.
Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said a determination of genocide could only be made by a relevant U.N. judicial body.
In his meetings, Blinken said he would also discuss the future of Gaza and laying the groundwork for future Palestinian statehood.
HAMAS FIGHTERS EMERGE FROM TUNNELS
Amid heavy explosions in Gaza, Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told reporters his country’s “troops completed the encirclement of Gaza City, which is the focal point of the Hamas terror organization.”
Brigadier General Iddo Mizrahi, chief of Israel’s military engineers, said troops were encountering mines and booby traps.
“Hamas has learned and prepared itself well,” he said.
Abu Ubaida, spokesperson for the armed wing of Hamas, said in a televised speech on Thursday that Israel’s death toll in Gaza was much higher than the military had announced. “Your soldiers will return in black bags,” he said.
Israel has said it has lost 18 soldiers and killed dozens of militants since ground operations expanded on Friday.
Hamas and allied Islamic Jihad fighters were emerging from tunnels to fire at tanks, then disappearing back into the network, residents said and videos from both groups showed.
MORE FOREIGNERS DUE TO EVACUATE
The Rafah crossing from Gaza to Egypt was due to open for a third day on Friday for limited evacuations under a Qatari-brokered deal aimed at letting some foreign passport holders, their dependents and some wounded Gazans out of the enclave.
According to border officials, more than 700 foreign citizens left for Egypt via the Rafah crossing on the two previous days.
Dozens of critically injured Palestinians were to cross too. Israel asked foreign countries to send hospital ships for them.
In Khan Younis, in the south of the Gaza Strip, nine-year-old Rafif Abu Ziyada said she was drinking dirty water and getting stomach pains and headaches.
“There is no cooking gas, there is no water, we don’t eat well. We are getting sick,” she said. “There’s garbage on the ground and the whole place is polluted.”
Over a third of Gaza’s 35 hospitals are not functioning, with many turned into impromptu refugee camps.
“The situation is beyond catastrophic,” said the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians, describing packed corridors and many medics who were themselves bereaved and homeless.