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Up to 400,000 people remain along Gaza front after Israel rejects ‘pause’

AMMAN, Jordan — Facing heavy bombardment and warned by Israel to evacuate immediately, as many as 400,000 people remain in northern Gaza as Israeli tanks and ground troops press forward seeking to smash Hamas strongholds and free hostages, U.S. officials said Saturday.

Another 800,000 to 1 million residents have fled to southern areas of Gaza but still face intense Israeli bombardment as the war neared its one-month mark.

For a three-hour window Saturday, Israel offered passage for people in Gaza to move south on the Salah al-Din road, the main passable highway running nearly the length of the 25-mile Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military now refers to southern Gaza as a “safer zone” vs. calling it a safe zone. Heavy bombardment still occurs in the south — and many Gazans say they feel nowhere offers a haven from the attacks and invasion.

Clean water is running out in Gaza. That could bring more deaths.

The Gaza Health Ministry estimated on Saturday that 2,200 people, including 1,250 children, are buried under the rubble of destroyed buildings in Gaza. Overall, the health officials say, more than 9,400 people have been killed, many of them women and children.

The Biden administration is pushing Israel for brief “humanitarian pauses” in the fighting — to allow aid in and people out — and to significantly expand the amount of supplies flowing into Gaza, the U.S. special envoy for Middle East humanitarian issues, David Satterfield, told reporters Saturday in Jordan’s capital, Amman.

After meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday in Tel Aviv, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly rebuffed the U.S. push, refusing “a temporary cease-fire that does not include the return of hostages.” Israel and the Biden administration think a full cease-fire would benefit Hamas.

About 100 to 120 trucks are getting in every day now, Satterfield said, in contrast to the 400 to 500 daily before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack in Israel that claimed 1,400 lives and left more than 200 hostages in the militants’ hands.

Among the challenges to increasing aid shipments into Gaza is the enormous scale of need — alongside fears of possible looting of the trucks and the safety of the drivers.

At a meeting in Amman, U.S. and Arab leaders clashed Saturday over whether Israel should halt its offensive in Gaza, as regional leaders said that the heavy Palestinian civilian death toll would radicalize a generation and accused Israel of crossing the line from self-defense into war crimes.

Blinken defended what he said was Israel’s need to eliminate Hamas as a security threat to its citizens. But he said that he agreed that Israel needed to be mindful of civilian casualties and that leaders had worked on practical steps to try to get more humanitarian aid into Gaza to ease the civilian suffering there.

The tensions were on stark display as Blinken stood next to the foreign ministers of Jordan and Egypt as his two counterparts decried Israel’s offensive in starkly emotional terms, saying that Palestinian civilians were being dehumanized after an attack by Hamas for which they bore no responsibility.

Blinken described his own pain when he saw Palestinian children suffering in rubble — but he added: “It’s our view that a cease-fire now would simply leave Hamas in place, able to regroup and repeat what it did on Oct. 7,” Blinken said.

“Protecting civilians will help prevent Hamas from further exploiting the situation. But most importantly, it’s simply the right and moral thing to do,” Blinken said.

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Blinken’s counterparts in the region said that the humanitarian situation was so dire in Gaza that it was impossible, for now, to focus on anything else.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said, “With every missile unleashed on Gaza, with every killing of a Palestinian child … the whole region is sinking in a sea of hatred that will define generations to come, and that is already starting to manifest itself.”

Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister, called for Israel to enact an immediate cease-fire “without condition.”

But Blinken said that Washington and Arab states believe the status quo of a Hamas-controlled Gaza cannot continue.

The United States, meanwhile, is trying to find ways to get more aid into southern Gaza via Egypt’s Rafah border crossing, the only route connecting Gaza that is not controlled by Israel.

The Biden administration is not aware of Hamas intercepting the aid, said Satterfield, nor does it believe that the Israeli military campaign against Hamas in Gaza has hit any aid shipments.

In a meeting with Lebanese caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati in Amman, Blinken said he “shared his deep concern” about exchanges of fire along Lebanon’s southern border between Iranian-backed Hezbollah and Israel.

Speaking live via a video feed on Friday, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, stopped short of announcing an all-out escalation in his first public comments since the start of the Gaza war. But all options remain “on the table,” Nasrallah warned.

A senior State Department official said that as many as 600 trucks of aid are needed in Gaza every day, and that the United States was pressing to create the conditions to make that possible. A Gaza border spokesman said no one crossed through Rafah to Egypt on Saturday.

While diplomats talked in Amman, Israel continued its bombing campaign in Gaza.

An Israeli strike on an ambulance outside Gaza City’s largest hospital on Friday killed at least 15 people and injured 60 others, the Gaza Health Ministry said. The Israeli military confirmed its aircraft targeted the ambulance, which it said was “being used by” Hamas militants. Videos reviewed by The Washington Post showed women and children among the dead, and no weapons or individuals wearing military clothing could be seen.

The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said one of its schools in northern Gaza, which sheltered displaced families in the Jabalya refugee camp, was struck Saturday. It said “one strike hit the schoolyard” and another “hit inside the school where women were baking bread.”

UNRWA said children were among those reported killed, adding that it was unable to verify the exact number of casualties. The Gaza Health Ministry said at least 15 people were killed and more than 70 injured.

The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said “at least one strike hit the school yard” and another hit “where women were breaking bread.” (Video: Reuters)

A strike near the entrance of al-Quds Hospital wounded 21 displaced people and caused damage at the location, the Palestine Red Crescent Society said Saturday. Videos shared by the Red Crescent and verified by the video-analysis group Storyful showed a large cloud of smoke from an apparent strike near the same hospital.

In southern Gaza, photos showed Palestinians rushing early Saturday to rescue survivors in the rubble of a building in Khan Younis, a part of the territory Israel called on Gaza residents to move to for shelter as it expanded ground operations in the enclave.

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment on reports of strikes in Khan Younis, at the UNRWA school or at al-Quds Hospital.

“Morgues are overflowing. Shops are empty. The sanitation situation is abysmal,” said a statement by U.N. Secretary General António Guterres. “We are seeing an increase in diseases and respiratory illnesses, especially among children. An entire population is traumatized. Nowhere is safe.”

Morris reported from Tel Aviv, Booth from Jerusalem. Miriam Berger in Tel Aviv, Victoria Bisset in London and Kareem Fahim in Beirut con nearsed its one-month mark.


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