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Blinken discusses ‘humanitarian pauses’ as Israel encircles Gaza City

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says he discussed need to avoid civilian casualties with Israeli leader Netanyahu.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that he discussed “humanitarian pauses” with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose forces continue to hammer the Gaza Strip.

After arriving in Israel on Friday, the first stop in a trip to the region, Blinken emphasised US support for Israel but asked for steps to protect civilians and allow greater aid into Gaza.

“We believe that each of these efforts [to protect Palestinian civilians and increase aid into Gaza] would be facilitated by humanitarian pauses, by arrangements on the ground that increase security for civilians and permit the more effective and sustained delivery of humanitarian assistance,” the top US diplomat told journalists.

The visit has come as Israeli troops encircle Gaza City after several days of intensifying ground operations in the strip, where it has pledged to dismantle the Palestinian armed group Hamas after a deadly attack on October 7 that Israel has said killed more than 1,400 people.

That attack, which included the mass killing of civilians, among them women and children, has been widely condemned by global leaders and international organisations.

But criticism has mounted as Israel cut off access to food, fuel, and electricity for Gaza’s more than 2.3 million residents and levelled entire neighbourhoods with relentless air raids.

Palestinian authorities have said that more than 9,227 people, many of them women and children, have been killed by the constant bombardment, combining with strained fuel supplies from Israel’s siege to overwhelm Gaza’s already fragile health system.

Aid agencies and international groups have warned that a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding, and Palestinians in the besieged enclave have few options for seeking refuge.

Israel had instructed the population of Gaza’s northern regions to move south, but no corner of the strip has been spared from the attacks.

​​”Never have I been in a situation where we are effectively starved of the vital humanitarian supplies that we need to provide to people,” said Tom White, director of the UN agency on Palestinian refugees, adding that most Palestinians in Gaza were surviving on one or two pieces of bread per day.

Speaking with members of the United Nations on Friday, UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said that there has been “some progress” on negotiations to allow additional fuel into Gaza.

“If we do not have pauses, we will not keep up with the needs of the people of Gaza and the Israelis also caught up in those areas of conflict,” he said.

While the United States has continued to pledge full support for Israel and rejected growing calls for a ceasefire, it has started to temper those statements with discussion about the need to protect Palestinian civilians and allow aid into Gaza as the death toll mounts.

Blinken and US President Joe Biden have both voiced support for pauses in the fighting to help facilitate the flow of humanitarian assistance, but Israel has firmly rejected those calls so far.

Netanyahu said there would be no “temporary truce” until Hamas released all of the more than 240 people taken captive on October 7, a group that includes Israeli soldiers and civilians, as well as foreigners.

Blinken said he also told Netanyahu the US wants to see Israel take concrete steps to crack down on increasing attacks on Palestinians by Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank, where 132 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers and settlers since the fighting began.

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