Israel has faced growing international pressure, including from its main ally the United States, to do more to protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza as the death toll rose and fighting intensified near and around hospitals.
The number of Palestinians killed during the shelling of the coastal enclave in the past five weeks has surpassed 11,000, as Israeli forces waged a war against Hamas resistance fighters who carried out the October 7 rampage in southern Israel.
In his strongest comments yet on the plight of civilians caught in the crossfire, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told reporters during a visit to India on Friday: “Too many Palestinians have been killed; too many have suffered in recent weeks. “
But Blinken reaffirmed US support for Israel’s campaign to ensure that Gaza can no longer be used “as a launch pad for terrorism”.
French President Emmanuel Macron, in an interview with the BBC published late Friday, said Israel must stop bombing Gaza and killing civilians. France, he said, “clearly condemns” the “terrorist” actions of Hamas, but that, while recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself, “we urge them to stop this bombardment” of Gaza.
In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said world leaders should condemn Hamas, not Israel. “These crimes that Hamas is committing today in Gaza will be committed tomorrow in Paris, New York and anywhere in the world,” Netanyahu said.
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Israel has said Hamas, which is holding up to 240 hostages of different nationalities captured in last month’s attack, would use the truce to regroup if there was a ceasefire.
Saudi Arabia will host an emergency joint Islamic Arab summit in Riyadh on Saturday, the Saudi Foreign Ministry announced. The joint meeting “will be held in response to the extraordinary conditions taking place in the Palestinian Gaza Strip as countries feel the need to unify efforts and arrive at a single collective position,” it said.
Overcrowded hospitals hit by explosions, gunfire
Fighting intensified Saturday night near Gaza City’s overcrowded hospitals, which were hit by explosions and gunfire.
“Israel is now starting a war on Gaza City’s hospitals,” said Mohammad Abu Selmeya, director of Al Shifa Hospital.
He said later that at least 25 people were killed in Israeli raids on the Al-Buraq school in Gaza City, where people whose homes had been destroyed were sheltering.
Gaza officials said rockets landed in a courtyard of Al Shifa, the enclave’s largest hospital, in the early hours of Friday, damaged the Indonesian hospital and reportedly set fire to the Nasser Rantissi pediatric cancer hospital.
The Israeli military later said an errant missile fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza had hit Shifa.
The hospitals, filled with displaced people, patients and medical staff, are in northern Gaza, where Israel says Hamas fighters are concentrated.
Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy claimed that Hamas’ headquarters were in the basement of Shifa Hospital, which meant the facility could lose its protected status and become a legitimate target.
Israel claims Hamas is hiding weapons in tunnels under hospitals. Charges that Hamas denies.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said health workers the team had been in contact with in Sifa had been forced to leave the hospital in search of safety.
“Many of the thousands housed in the hospital are forced to evacuate due to security risks, while many remain there,” Tedros wrote on social media.
‘No one is safe’
Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra said Israel bombed the Shifa hospital buildings five times.
“One Palestinian was killed and several wounded in the early morning attack,” he said by phone. Video verified by Reuters showed scenes of panic and people covered in blood.
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Israeli tanks have taken up positions around Nasser Rantissi Hospital as well as Al-Quds Hospital, medical staff said earlier.
The Palestinian Red Cross reported that Israeli forces fired at Al-Quds Hospital and there were violent clashes, with one person killed and 28 injured, most of them children.
Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht said in a briefing that the military “does not shoot at hospitals. If we see Hamas terrorists shooting from hospitals, we will do whatever we have to do. We are aware of the sensitivity (of the hospitals), but again, if we see Hamas terrorists, we will kill them.”
Israel’s UN ambassador Gilad Erdan said Israel has set up a task force to set up hospitals in southern Gaza. On October 12, Israel ordered some 1.1 million people in Gaza to move south ahead of its ground invasion.
Palestinian officials said Friday that 11,078 Gazans have been killed in airstrikes and artillery since October 7.
Israel’s foreign ministry said about 1,200 people were killed in the October 7 Hamas attack, a revision to the previous death toll, though it added that it may change again once all the bodies are found.
Israel also said 39 soldiers have been killed in fighting since October 7.
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