As Gaza death toll rises, Israel faces pressure to protect Palestinian civilians

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Gaza (Reuters) – Israel faced mounting 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 between Israeli forces and Hamas militants near and around hospitals.

Global calls for Israeli restraint increased as the number of Palestinians killed rose above 11,000 in a five-week-old Israeli bombardment launched against Hamas in retaliation for its deadly Oct. 7 rampage in southern Israel.

In his strongest comments to date on the plight of civilians caught in the Gaza cross-fire, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on a visit to India on Friday: “Far too many Palestinians have been killed; far too many have suffered these past weeks.”

Blinken welcomed daily four-hour humanitarian pauses by Israel that the White House announced on Thursday and said more action was needed to safeguard Gaza’s civilians. But he reaffirmed U.S. support for Israel’s campaign to ensure that Gaza can no longer be used “as a platform for launching terrorism.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, in a BBC interview published late on Friday, said Israel must stop bombing Gaza and killing civilians. France, he said, “clearly condemns” the “terrorist” actions of Hamas, but that while recognising Israel’s right to protect itself, “we do urge them to stop this bombing” in Gaza.

In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said world leaders should be condemning Hamas, and 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.

Israel has said that Hamas militants, who are holding as many as 240 hostages of different nationalities taken in last month’s attack, would exploit a truce to regroup if there were a ceasefire.

Saudi Arabia will host an extraordinary joint Islamic-Arab summit in Riyadh on Saturday, the Saudi foreign ministry said. The joint meeting “will be held in response to the exceptional circumstances taking place in the Palestinian Gaza Strip as countries feel the need to unify efforts and come out with a unified collective position,” it said.

Overcrowded Hospitals Hit By Explosions, Gunfire

Fighting intensified overnight into Saturday near Gaza City’s overcrowded hospitals, which Palestinian officials said were hit by explosions and gunfire.

“Israel is now launching a war on Gaza City hospitals,” said Mohammad Abu Selmeyah, director of Al Shifa hospital.

He said later that at least 25 people were killed in Israeli strikes on Al-Buraq school in Gaza City, where people whose homes had been destroyed were sheltering.

Gaza officials said missiles landed in the courtyard of Al Shifa, the enclave’s biggest hospital, in the early hours of Friday, damaged the Indonesian Hospital and reportedly set fire to the Nasser Rantissi paediatric cancer hospital.

Israel’s military said later that a misfired projectile launched by Palestinian militants in Gaza had hit Shifa.

The hospitals are in northern Gaza, where Israel says the Hamas militants who attacked it last month are concentrated, and are full of displaced people as well as patients and doctors.

Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy said the Hamas headquarters was in Shifa hospital’s basement, which meant the hospital could lose its protected status and become a legitimate target.

Israel says Hamas hides weapons in tunnels under hospitals, charges Hamas denies.

‘No One Is Safe’

Israeli tanks have taken up positions around the Nasser Rantissi hospital as well as the Al-Quds hospital, medical staff said earlier.

Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra said Israel had bombed Shifa hospital buildings five times.

“One Palestinian was killed and several were wounded in the early morning attack,” he said by phone. Videos verified by Reuters showed scenes of panic and people covered in blood.

World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the United Nations Security Council that a child is killed on average every 10 minutes in the Gaza Strip. “Nowhere and no one is safe,” he said.

Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan said Israel had created a task force to establish hospitals in southern Gaza. On Oct. 12, Israel ordered some 1.1 million people in Gaza to move south ahead of its ground invasion.

Palestinian officials said on Friday that 11,078 Gaza residents had been killed in air and artillery strikes since Oct. 7.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said around 1,200 people had been killed, mostly civilians, in the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, a revision of the earlier death toll, although it added that might change again once all the bodies are identified.

Israel has also said 39 soldiers have been killed in combat since Oct. 7.

The Palestinian Red Cross said Israeli forces were shooting at Al-Quds hospital, and there were violent clashes, with one person killed and 28 wounded, most of them children.

Israeli army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht said at a briefing the army “does not fire on hospitals. If we see Hamas terrorists firing from hospitals we’ll do what we need to do. We’re aware of the sensitivity (of hospitals), but again, if we see Hamas terrorists, we’ll kill them.”

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