The US’s top diplomat has said “far too many Palestinians” are being killed in Israel’s war against Hamas, heightening international pressure on Benjamin Netanyahu’s government over the death toll in Gaza.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken was speaking after Palestinian officials said the Israeli military had struck hospitals in the north of Gaza, where thousands of people have been sheltering from Israel’s bombardment of the besieged strip.
Speaking in India, Blinken said the US wanted to do “everything possible” to prevent harm to Palestinians and increase aid.
“Much more needs to be done to protect civilians and to make sure that humanitarian assistance reaches them,” he told reporters. “Far too many Palestinians have been killed, far too many have suffered these past weeks.”
His comments point to increasing friction between Israel and the US over the Jewish state’s prosecution of the war against Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that has controlled Gaza since 2007.
Although Washington has not called for a ceasefire, the US has been pressing for additional humanitarian pauses in the fighting to allow in more aid and facilitate efforts to release hostages taken by Hamas in its assault on Israel on October 7.
The US has also outlined a vision for postwar Gaza that differs sharply from that of Israel.
It wants the Palestinian Authority, a rival of Hamas, to take over the administration of Gaza, and Israel to end its 16-year blockade of the strip that has impoverished Palestinians without weakening the militant group.
But Netanyahu’s recent comments suggest their views diverge. Israeli media quoted the prime minister as telling a group of regional leaders from southern Israel on Friday that at the end of the war “there will be total Israeli security control over the Gaza strip, including its full demilitarisation”.
At the same time, Israel is facing increasing scrutiny over its attacks on civilian infrastructure in Gaza.
Palestinian officials said Israeli air strikes on Friday had hit hospitals and a school, causing several deaths.
They added missiles had landed in the courtyard of al-Shifa hospital, Gaza’s largest, which has become a key sanctuary for thousands of people trying to escape the Israeli bombing.
A statement by the Palestinian health ministry said Israeli forces had targeted al-Shifa “five times in a row” and were still hitting the area.
It added they were also besieging the al-Rantisi and al-Nasr children’s hospitals, “exposing the lives of thousands of patients, medical staff and displaced people to certain death due to hunger, thirst and direct bombardment”.
The health ministry said 11,078 Palestinians had been killed in Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.
The number killed in Gaza is far higher than the combined death toll of the three previous wars Israel has fought against Hamas.
Israel says the al-Shifa hospital sits atop a Hamas command centre and a dense network of underground tunnels used by the militant group.
It has accused Hamas of using people in the hospital and other civilian infrastructure as human shields.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said hospitals in Gaza have “reached a point of no return”, risking the lives of thousands of people.
“Children’s hospitals have not been spared . . . the violence, including al-Nasr hospital, heavily damaged by the hostilities, and al-Rantisi hospital, which had to cease its operations,” it added.
The ICRC said its staff attempting to deliver medical supplies had witnessed “horrendous” scenes “that have now gotten worse due to sharpened hostilities”, and described the destruction as “becoming unbearable”.
“The rules of war are clear. Hospitals are specially protected facilities under international humanitarian law,” it added.
Asked about the attacks on al-Shifa and al-Rantisi, Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Richard Hecht said Israeli troops were closing in on hospitals in northern Gaza used by Hamas “but we’re very aware of the dynamic and the sensitivity” of the sites.
Hecht said the IDF “does not fire on hospitals”. “If we see Hamas terrorists firing from [them], we’ll do what we need to do,” he added.
Hecht also said Israel had expanded the humanitarian corridor it has established to enable people to flee to southern Gaza from 9am until 4pm each day.
Israel-Hamas war: 2-minute briefing
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Israel declared war on Hamas after the group launched a bloody assault in the south of the country on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking 240 hostages, according to Israeli officials.
Israel subsequently ordered Gaza’s civilian population to move south as it unleashed an aerial bombardment of the enclave, and later began its ground offensive in the northern part of the strip.
In Al Bureij in central Gaza, Om Mohamed Abu Zeid, a Palestinian moving to the south with her five children, said: “We saw bodies of men, women and children on the road . . . There are injured children unable to walk, and men carrying their elderly mothers and fathers. Where should they all go?”
Nouh Harouda, 61, another displaced Palestinian also travelling with his family, said: “Our houses have been destroyed . . . There is no food, no water, no safe place. I don’t know where we will go . . . We have no clothes, no money, nothing at all.”