As the conflict between Israel and Hamas escalates, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Israel takes on added significance. He is expected to call for localized ceasefires to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid into Gaza. Meanwhile, Israel’s military has reported its encirclement of Gaza City, with troops advancing further into the heart of the city, where close-quarters combat rages on.
Prior to his departure from Washington, Blinken expressed his intention to engage in discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to explore concrete measures for minimizing harm to Gaza’s civilian population. This marks Blinken’s second meeting with Netanyahu since the conflict began nearly a month ago, following an attack by Hamas militants that claimed the lives of approximately 1,400 Israelis, predominantly civilians, and resulted in the abduction of over 240 hostages.
In response to Israel’s retaliatory strikes on Gaza, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza reported a grim toll of at least 9,061 casualties, including 3,760 children. Independent experts from the United Nations have issued dire warnings, suggesting that the Palestinians in the territory are facing a “grave risk of genocide.”
A group of UN special rapporteurs issued a joint statement, calling for an immediate ceasefire and declaring, “We are running out of time.”
Following President Joe Biden’s expressed support for temporary ceasefires to facilitate the release of hostages, the White House has indicated a willingness to explore the idea of multiple localized pauses in fighting to ensure the safe delivery of aid and the evacuation of individuals, including hostages.
While emphasizing the need for these pauses to be temporary and restricted to specific areas, the White House has reiterated Israel’s right to defend itself.
Beyond Israel, Blinken is scheduled to meet with Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi in Amman on Saturday. Safadi, in a statement, accused Israel of committing war crimes by targeting civilians and imposing a siege on Gaza, and called for an end to the war.
In a related development, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah is expected to deliver a highly anticipated speech on Friday afternoon. This follows a recent increase in violence on Israel’s northern border. Hezbollah claimed responsibility for simultaneous attacks on 19 positions in Israel on Thursday. So far, these clashes have been contained primarily along the frontier, with Hezbollah exercising only a fraction of its long-threatened firepower against Israel.
US national security spokesperson John Kirby commented on Nasrallah’s speech, noting that there is no clear indication that Hezbollah is prepared to fully engage in conflict. The situation remains uncertain, pending Nasrallah’s statement.
In Gaza, the escalating casualties among Palestinian civilians, coupled with severe shortages of essential resources like food, water, medicine, and fuel, have intensified global calls for a ceasefire. However, Israel has rejected such calls, contending that its military targets Hamas fighters who allegedly use the civilian population and structures as shields.
With the situation in Gaza reaching catastrophic proportions, the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians has described it as “beyond catastrophic,” with packed corridors in hospitals and many medical professionals coping with their own bereavement and homelessness.
Late on Thursday, Israel announced the severance of all contact with Gaza, mandating the return of Palestinian workers who were in Israel on the day the war broke out. The Israeli security cabinet did not specify the number of individuals affected. Before the conflict, Israel had issued work permits to 18,500 people from Gaza, according to Cogat, the Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs.
In the midst of this crisis, the Rafah crossing from Gaza to Egypt was set to open for a third day on Friday, allowing for limited evacuations as part of a Qatari-brokered agreement aimed at facilitating the departure of foreign passport holders, their dependents, and critically injured Palestinians. Israel has requested foreign countries to send hospital ships to assist.
Over one-third of Gaza’s 35 hospitals are non-operational, with many being repurposed as makeshift refugee camps.
Israel’s announcement of severed contact with Gaza represents a further escalation in the ongoing conflict, with grave humanitarian consequences in this already dire situation.