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Israeli forces launched an air strike on a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip that Palestinian officials said killed dozens of people as the US and Israel rejected calls from Arab leaders for a ceasefire in the war.
The strike late on Saturday came as US secretary of state Antony Blinken’s regional tour has exposed deep divisions between Arab capitals and Washington over the war in Gaza, which has now entered its fifth week.
Israel began an aerial bombardment of the enclave after Hamas fighters launched a surprise rampage through southern Israel on October 7, killing 1,400 people and taking more than 240 others hostage, according to Israeli officials.
Gazan health officials say more than 9,488 Palestinians have been killed in the war, which has escalated Israel has sent its forces into the strip with a mission to defeat Hamas.
The Palestinian news agency Wafa said Israeli warplanes attacked the Al-Maghazi refugee camp in Gaza on Saturday night. Ashraf al-Qidri, a spokesperson for the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza, said more than 30 people had been killed in the strike.
Al-Maghazi is in the southern half of Gaza, where IDF had told Palestinian civilians from the north to evacuate for safety.
The IDF did not immediately comment on the reports. In the past, it has said it is targeting Hamas, not civilians, and accuses the Islamist group of using people as human shields.
The Israel Defense Forces have now completely encircled Gaza City, Hamas’s main base, and reported fierce street battles against the group’s militants.
Regional powers have called for an immediate ceasefire, which Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has flatly rejected, saying Israel would only agree to do so if Hamas released all the hostages.
Blinken, too, has said a ceasefire would only benefit Hamas by allowing the organisation to regroup and attack again, and has instead proposed a series of localised “humanitarian pauses” that would make it easier to bring humanitarian aid into the beleaguered enclave and get foreign nationals out.
The secretary of state will on Sunday meet Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, where fears of violence are also rising, before travelling to Turkey.
Blinken has urged Israel to “do more to protect Palestinian civilians”. But those calls do not go far enough for Arab leaders. “We need to work together . . . to stop this madness,” Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, told Blinken on Saturday.
Blinken also met King Abdullah II of Jordan, who called for a “humanitarian truce” and warned that military action would not achieve a two-state solution, according to a statement from the royal court.
Hamas has demanded a ceasefire, more aid for Palestinian civilians and fuel shipments in exchange for the release of civilian hostages. The group intends to hold captured Israeli soldiers to trade for more than 6,000 Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons.
In Washington, thousands of protesters gathered on Saturday to demand a ceasefire in Gaza and to denounce President Joe Biden’s policy on the war.
Demonstrators wielded placards with slogans such as “Palestinian Lives Matter”, “Let Gaza Live” and “Their blood is on your hands”. Organisers said it was one of the largest pro-Palestinian protests ever in the US capital.