Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pushed back against growing US pressure for a “humanitarian pause” in the war to protect civilians and allow more aid into the Gaza Strip, insisting there will be no temporary ceasefire until the roughly 240 hostages held by Hamas are released.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken made his third trip to Israel since the war began, reiterating support for Israel’s campaign to crush Hamas after its October 7 attack in southern Israel.
He also echoed President Joe Biden’s calls for a brief halt in the fighting to address a worsening humanitarian crisis.
Alarm has grown over spiralling Palestinian deaths and deepening misery for civilians from weeks of Israeli bombardment and a widening ground assault that risks even greater casualties.
Overwhelmed hospitals say they are nearing collapse, with medicine and fuel running low under the Israeli siege, and about 1.5 million people in Gaza – 70% of the population – have fled their homes, the UN said on Friday.
After talks with Mr Netanyahu, Mr Blinken said a temporary halt is needed to boost aid deliveries and help win the release of the hostages Hamas took during its October 7 incursion.
But Mr Netanyahu said he told the US diplomat that Israel was “going with full steam ahead” unless hostages are released.
US officials say they are not seeking a ceasefire but short pauses in specific areas to allow aid deliveries or other humanitarian activity, after which Israeli operations would resume.
Mr Netanyahu has not publicly addressed the idea and has repeatedly ruled out a ceasefire.
In the Gaza Strip, Israeli troops tightened their encirclement of the largest city amid continued battles with Hamas militants.
Al Jazeera TV reported that a strike late on Friday hit a school in Gaza City where many were taking refuge, causing casualties.
Strikes hit near the entrances of three hospitals in northern Gaza just as staff were trying to evacuate wounded to the south, hospital directors said.
Footage showed the aftermath outside Gaza’s largest hospital, Shifa, where more than a dozen bloodied bodies of men, women and children were strewn next to damaged cars and ambulances. One bleeding boy screamed as he huddled on top of a woman sprawled on the pavement.
At least 10 people were killed outside Shifa Hospital, its director Mohammed Abu Salimia told Al Jazeera TV.
Another 50 were killed or wounded in a strike outside the Indonesian Hospital, its director said.
More than 9,200 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza so far, two-thirds of them women and children, the Gaza Health Ministry said, without providing a breakdown between civilians and fighters.
More than 1,400 people have died on the Israeli side, mainly civilians killed during Hamas’s initial attack.
Rocket fire by Gaza militants into Israel has continued, disrupting life for millions of people and forcing an estimated 250,000 people to evacuate towns in northern and southern Israel. Most rockets are intercepted.
Twenty-four Israeli soldiers have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the start of the ground operation.
The toll is likely to rise dramatically. Israeli military officials said their forces have encircled densely built-up Gaza City and began on Friday to launch targeted attacks on militant cells.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians remain in the city and nearby parts of northern Gaza.
Israel says Hamas has extensive military infrastructure in the city, including a network of underground tunnels, bunkers and command centres. It says its strikes target Hamas and the militants endanger civilians by operating among them.
Friday’s strike outside Shifa Hospital came after Israel said Hamas had a command centre at the facility — a claim that could not be independently verified and that Hamas and hospital officials deny.
The Israeli military said its aircraft on Friday had hit an ambulance near a battle zone that Hamas fighters were using to carry weapons. That claim could not be verified.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said a strike damaged one of its ambulances carrying wounded to southern Gaza on the coastal road. The agency posted images of the vehicle with its bonnet destroyed and blood on the side.
The military said its troops have killed numerous Hamas militants exiting tunnels. Footage released by the military showed soldiers and tanks advancing towards bombed out buildings.
Israel has repeatedly told residents of Gaza’s north to evacuate to the south for greater safety, but many have been unable to leave or stay fearing continued air strikes in the south.