Fierce fighting as US envoy faces Arab anger

Israeli chief of staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi visited troops inside Gaza on Saturday after they completed encirclement of its largest city…reports Asian Lite News

Israel battled into the fifth week Saturday of its war to crush Hamas, showing no signs of letting up even as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken faced a rising tide of anger in meetings with Arab foreign ministers.

Blinken reaffirmed US support for “humanitarian pauses” in the fighting in Gaza to ensure desperate civilians get help a day after Israel’s hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave the idea short shrift.

However, US President Joe Biden said progress had been made on securing a so-called “humanitarian pause,” without elaborating.

At a news conference in Amman about sparing civilians and speeding up aid deliveries, Blinken said: “The United States believes that all of these efforts will be facilitated by humanitarian pauses.”

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, whose country has been acting as the sole conduit for foreigners to escape the Gaza Strip and for aid to get in, called for an “immediate and comprehensive cease-fire.”

Hamas said late Saturday the evacuation of dual nationals and foreigners from Gaza was being suspended until Israel lets some wounded Palestinians reach Rafah so they can cross the border for hospital treatment in Egypt.

Israeli chief of staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi visited troops inside Gaza on Saturday after they completed encirclement of its largest city.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Israeli forces were fighting “hard” inside Gaza. He said they were “operating from south and north (of Gaza City) and have entered populated areas.”

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas in punishment for its brutal October 7 attack on communities and military outposts near the Gaza border, which killed more than 1,400 people, mainly civilians.

The health ministry in Gaza, which is run by Hamas, says more than 9,480 Gazans, mostly women and children, have been killed in Israeli strikes and the intensifying ground campaign.

The ministry said at least 12 people had been killed when Israel struck a United Nations school where thousands of displaced Palestinians were sheltering.

“Bombs were falling on us, people got cut into pieces,” said Sajda Maarouf, a Palestinian woman sheltering in the school. “We want a truce, please, we are exhausted.”

The fighting has provoked anti-Israeli protests around the world, and political opposition from key regional powers, including influential Turkiye, which on Saturday recalled its ambassador from Israel.

Palestinian ally Turkiye had been mending torn relations with Israel until last month’s start of the Israel-Hamas war.

But Ankara’s tone hardened against both Israel and its Western supporters — particularly the United States — as the fighting escalated and the death toll among Palestinian civilians soared.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters he held Netanyahu personally responsible for the growing civilian death toll in Gaza.

“Netanyahu is no longer someone we can talk to. We have written him off,” Turkish media quoted Erdogan as saying.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Lior Haiat said the move was “another step by the Turkish president that sides with the Hamas terrorist organization.”

Hamas hailed the move and urged Ankara to “put pressure on President (Joe) Biden and his administration” so that “humanitarian and medical help can reach our besieged people in the Gaza Strip.”

Blinken is to begin a two-day visit to Turkiye on Sunday, the US State Department said. Thousands demonstrated in Istanbul on Saturday against his visit.

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