The United States’ top diplomat Antony Blinken landed in Tel Aviv on Friday to push for humanitarian pauses in the Gaza war as Israel said it had surrounded the Palestinian enclave’s biggest city and the focus of its drive to annihilate Hamas.
Blinken, on his second trip to Israel in a month, is due to discuss with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders concrete steps to minimise harm to civilians in besieged Gaza, where food, fuel, water and medicine are scarce.
The White House, meanwhile, said any pauses in fighting should be temporary and localised, and insisted they would not stop Israel defending itself.
“When I see a Palestinian child – a boy, a girl – pulled from the rubble of a collapsed building, that hits me in the gut as much as seeing a child from Israel or anywhere else,” Blinken told reporters before leaving for Israel. “So this is something that we have an obligation to respond to, and we will.”
Newly appointed U.S. ambassador to Israel Jacob Lew traveled with Blinken to Tel Aviv.
Gaza health authorities say at least 9,061 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched its assault on the enclave of 2.3 million people in retaliation for deadly attacks by Hamas militants on southern Israel.
Israel says Hamas killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and took more than 240 hostages in the attacks on Oct. 7, the deadliest day of its 75-year-old history.
On Thursday, Netanyahu said the military had encircled Gaza City, the enclave’s biggest, and was advancing. The Israel Defense Forces, in a statement on Friday, said its jets, artillery and navy had struck Hamas targets overnight, killing several militants including Mustafa Dalul, a Hamas commander it said had directed combat in the Gaza Strip.
There was no immediate confirmation from Hamas.
Mounting casualties among Palestinian civilians, along with acute shortages of basic supplies, have intensified calls by global leaders for a pause in fighting or a ceasefire.
The United Arab Emirates, one of a handful of Arab states with diplomatic ties to Israel, said on Friday it was working “relentlessly” for an immediate ceasefire, warning that the risk of regional spillover and further escalation was real.
Israel has dismissed these calls, saying it targets Hamas fighters whom it accuses of intentionally hiding among the population and civilian buildings. The White House has also rejected calls for a ceasefire.
Blinken is 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.
PALESTINIANS AT GRAVE RISK
With the conflict at the end of its fourth week, 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.
A group of independent United Nations human rights experts warned that Palestinians in Gaza are at “grave risk of genocide”.
The Israeli mission to the U.N. in Geneva called the UN rapporteur’s comments “deplorable and deeply concerning” and blamed Hamas for the civilian deaths. Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said a determination of genocide could only be made by a relevant U.N. judicial body.