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Pressure mounts on Israel over civilian casualties as ceasefire calls rebuffed

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Having rebuffed calls for a ceasefire, Israel is set to come under sustained pressure on Monday (6 November) to avoid civilian casualties during its assault on Gaza, while a US diplomatic blitz in the region seeks to reduce risks of the conflict escalating.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to meet with Turkey’s foreign minister in Ankara on Monday, hours after hundreds of people at a pro-Palestinian protest tried to storm an air base that houses US troops in southern Turkey.

Iran-backed group Kataib Hezbollah issued a warning on Saturday night that the expected Blinken visit to Turkey would be met with “an unprecedented escalation.”

Blinken on Sunday made an unannounced visit to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who joined international calls for an immediate ceasefire.

The US top diplomat also paid an unannounced visit to Iraq on Sunday, his first, and held talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani.

Health officials in Hamas-controlled Gaza said more than 9,770 Palestinians have been killed in the war, which began when Hamas launched a surprise attack on southern Israel a month ago, killing 1,400 people and taking more than 240 hostage.

Blinken repeated US concerns that a ceasefire could aid Hamas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ruled it out unless hostages held by Hamas were released.

“There will be no ceasefire without the return of the hostages. This should be completely removed from the lexicon,” Netanyahu said.

Israel’s military said on Sunday it had surrounded Gaza City, at the northern end of the enclave. Palestinian news agency WAFA had reported “unprecedented bombardment” from Israel, while telecoms provider Paltel reported another cutoff of communications and internet services.

Israel said 31 soldiers have been killed since it began expanded ground operations in Gaza on 27 October, fighting thousands of Hamas fighters who believe they can hold off Israel’s advance in a warren of tunnels under the enclave.

A spokesman for Israel’s military told CNN late on Sunday that bombardments in northern Gaza were halted for several hours for two days in a row to allow civilians safe passage to move to the south of the narrow coastal strip.

“Not only are we telling them where to go, but we’re also helping and creating much better humanitarian conditions in the south,” Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said, without indicating whether such pauses would continue.

Conricus said there was access to water and humanitarian goods in the south of Gaza, but Hamas was impeding convoys by firing on them. Reuters could not immediately verify his account.

US CIA Director William Burns was also set to visit Israel on Monday to discuss the war and intelligence with senior officials, the New York Times reported. Burns also will make stops in other Middle East countries to discuss the Gaza situation, the Times quoted an unnamed US official as saying.

The CIA did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday and “reiterated his ironclad commitment to Israel’s right to defend itself and emphasized the importance of both protecting civilians and delivering humanitarian assistance,” the Pentagon said.

Austin “reaffirmed the US commitment to deter any state or non-state actor seeking to escalate this conflict.”

US Vice President Kamala Harris will call foreign leaders later on Monday to discuss the conflict and advance the administration’s efforts to increase the flow of humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza, her office said.

Jordan’s air force air-dropped urgent medical aid to the Jordanian field hospital in Gaza early on Monday, according to a post on X, formerly Twitter, from Jordan’s king and reports in state media.

US Central Command, which covers the Middle East, said on X that an Ohio-class nuclear missile submarine had arrived in the region – an unusual public announcement of a nuclear submarine’s position that was seen by some analysts as a message to Iran.

On November 5, 2023, an Ohio-class submarine arrived in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. pic.twitter.com/iDgUFp4enp

— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) November 5, 2023

People searched for victims or survivors at the Maghazi refugee camp in Gaza, where the health ministry in the Hamas-run enclave said Israeli forces had killed at least 47 people in strikes early on Sunday.

“All night I and the other men were trying to pick the dead from the rubble. We got children, dismembered, torn-apart flesh,” said Saeed al-Nejma, 53.

Asked for comment, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said they were gathering details.

In a separate attack, 21 Palestinians from one family were killed in strikes, the health ministry said. The IDF declined to comment.

Reuters could not independently verify these accounts.

“We demand that you stop them from committing these crimes immediately,” Abbas told Blinken, urging an “immediate ceasefire” from Israel.

Palestinians were facing a war of “genocide and destruction”, news agency WAFA quoted Abbas as saying.

Tensions increased with Lebanon after an Israeli strike on a car in the south of the country killed three children and their grandmother, Lebanese authorities said.

Israel’s chief military spokesperson said the military had attacked “terrorist targets of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon” in response to a missile attack against tanks that killed an Israeli citizen.

Hezbollah said it responded by firing rockets at the town of Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel. The group said it would never tolerate attacks on civilians and its response would be “firm and strong”.

(Edited by Georgi Gotev)

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