JERUSALEM – As America’s top diplomat pressed a Middle East visit focused on humanitarian help for Palestinians, Israel said Sunday it was hammering Gaza with “significant” attacks after severing it in two.
According to army spokesman Daniel Hagari, Israeli forces “have encircled Gaza City… There is now a south Gaza and a north Gaza.”
Shortly before the strikes, internet and phone lines were disconnected, and the strikes would last all night and into the next day, he said.
He spoke after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the occupied West Bank, Iraq, and Cyprus Sunday on a whirlwind tour with the focus on aid for beleaguered civilians in Gaza and preventing attacks by Iran-backed groups on American troops in response to Israel’s Gaza war.
Blinken met with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, who condemned “genocide” in Gaza, where the health ministry reported at least 9,770 people, largely civilians, had been killed in more than four weeks of fighting.
With telecommunications in Gaza cut for the third time, Washington rejected calls for a ceasefire and backed Israel’s goal of crushing Hamas, which carried out the country’s worst attack in history on 7 October, killing more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and taking over 240 hostages, according to Israeli officials.
The rising death toll in Gaza has heightened global alarm, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that “there will be no ceasefire until the hostages are returned.”
“Let them remove this from their lexicon. We are saying this to our enemies and to our friends,” the veteran right-wing premier said after meeting troops at an air force base.
“We will simply continue until we win. We have no alternative.”
Soldiers engaged in house-to-house combat on Sunday as tanks and armored bulldozers churned through the sand in footage released by the army.
“This strike is like an earthquake,” Gaza City resident Alaa Abu Hasera said in a devastated area where entire blocks have been reduced to rubble.
According to a US State Department official, Blinken told Abbas that Palestinians in Gaza “must not be forcibly displaced.”
Although Israel has spread leaflets and sent text messages asking Palestinian people in northern Gaza to flee, a US official claimed Saturday that at least 350,000 Palestinians remained in what is essentially an urban combat zone.
“The genocide and destruction suffered by our Palestinian people in Gaza at the hands of Israel’s war machine, with no regard for the principles of international law,” Abbas stated, according to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.
‘PUT AN END TO EXTREMIST VIOLENCE’
In its persistent campaign to eradicate Hamas, Israel has leveled entire city blocks.
“Right now, parents in Gaza are unsure whether they will be able to feed their children today, let alone survive to see tomorrow,” said Cindy McCain, the World Food Programme’s director.
Blinken last week told a Senate hearing Abbas’s Palestinian Authority (PA) should retake control of Gaza after the war. It currently exercises only limited autonomy in parts of the West Bank and Netanyahu has long sought to sideline it.
Abbas said Sunday that the PA could return to power in Gaza in the future only if a “comprehensive political solution” is found for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Washington has said it backs a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but Netanyahu’s hard-right government has been implacably opposed.
The war has exacerbated tensions in the West Bank, where more than 150 Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli forces and in settler attacks, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
Blinken and Abbas discussed “the need to stop extremist violence against Palestinians” in the West Bank, the State Department said.