The top US envoy to the Middle East, Antony Blinken, was meeting Israeli leaders on Friday to push for humanitarian pauses in the Gaza war as Israeli troops surrounded the Palestinian enclave’s biggest city, the focus of its drive to wipe out Hamas. The administration has dismissed calls by progressive Democrats and some Arab governments for a general cease-fire, saying it would only allow militants to regroup and continue attacking Israel.
Amid global alarm over scarcities, collapsing medical services, and the rising civilian death toll, Blinken was expected to press Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for such pauses, which would allow in food, medicine, and other supplies and facilitate evacuations. He was also expected to stress the importance of limiting damage to the Palestinian population, including in Israeli settlements that are a flashpoint in the conflict.
Israeli forces pounded the Gaza Strip from the ground, sea, and air throughout the night. Air strikes pounded dozens of targets, including near the airport and in southern Naqoura, where a missile struck a house, killing three people and wounding dozens more. The Israeli military said its fighter jets had targeted Hamas “terrorist elements and infrastructure” in the area. Israeli forces “have entered the heart of the enemy and are advancing in a dense urban environment,” an army spokesman said. “The battle to end the threat of terrorism in the region will continue with great intensity.”
A witness at the Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Gaza told NBC News that the facility was “shut down” after the bombing and that patients were suffering from dwindling supplies and a lack of power. The medical staff were using generators to run the wards, and the facility was operating on only eight hours of electricity per day. Eyewitnesses say that Israeli attacks have caused power cuts in much of the Gaza Strip, leaving residents without light or access to cooking gas and other utilities.
An Israeli official said the IDF has established a “humanitarian zone” in southern Gaza but that it is far too small to accommodate the Strip’s population of 2.3 million. The official also argued that the IDF has not intentionally targeted hospitals or other health-related facilities and insisted that Hamas is deliberately trying to target its citizens with rocket fire.
President Biden was also visiting the region, reiterating his call for a pause in the fighting to let relief workers and foreign passport holders enter Gaza. The Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt was due to open for a third day on Friday for limited evacuations under a Qatari-brokered deal. Still, it remained unclear how many people could pass through.