In defiance of the United States’ plea for a temporary ceasefire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reaffirmed Israel’s determination to continue its full-force offensive in Gaza. Netanyahu’s resolute stance hinges on the condition that any cessation of hostilities must include the release of over 240 hostages held by Hamas, categorically rejecting the American proposal for a pause in the fighting.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Israel on Friday, making his second visit to the Middle East in less than a month, with the primary goal of averting an escalating regional crisis. Blinken sought to persuade Israel to temporarily halt its military operations, allowing essential humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip. The urgency for such a pause arises from mounting concerns about the increasing number of civilian casualties as the conflict intensifies.
On Friday evening, the Hamas-controlled health ministry reported a devastating airstrike on a convoy of ambulances near Gaza’s largest hospital, resulting in 15 fatalities and 60 injuries. Independent verification of the incident was pending, but an Agence France-Presse journalist on-site confirmed several bodies near a damaged ambulance.
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) stated that they executed an airstrike on an ambulance they identified as being used by Hamas, resulting in the deaths of multiple Hamas operatives. However, Hamas officials vehemently denied the presence of their fighters in the targeted ambulance. Gaza’s health ministry spokesperson, Ashraf al-Qudra, clarified that the ambulance was part of a convoy Israel struck near al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.
US officials have underscored their hope that a temporary cessation of hostilities will enable humanitarian aid to reach the distressed civilians in Gaza and foster negotiations for the release of hostages taken by Hamas during the initial attack. The release of these hostages remains a paramount objective of Israel’s ongoing offensive. To date, four have been released by Hamas, and one was rescued by Israeli forces.
In a press conference in Tel Aviv, Secretary Blinken acknowledged the importance of addressing numerous crucial questions during their discussions, including optimizing the flow of humanitarian assistance during any potential pause, linking the pause to the release of hostages, and ensuring that Hamas does not exploit such pauses to their advantage.
However, Prime Minister Netanyahu, in a subsequent televised statement, remained unequivocal, asserting, “I made clear that we are continuing full force and that Israel refuses a temporary ceasefire which does not include the release of our hostages.”
The conflict in Gaza stemmed from a series of terrorist attacks initiated by Hamas into Israel, resulting in the loss of 1,400 lives, primarily civilians. Israeli strikes in Gaza have, since then, claimed the lives of at least 9,227 Palestinians, including 3,826 children, according to the health ministry’s latest figures.
Additionally, the health ministry reported that Israel targeted a convoy of ambulances departing from al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, following international law protocols by notifying the Red Cross. Israel’s military maintained that the ambulance was associated with a Hamas terrorist cell and had been used for transporting both militants and weaponry. Although no concrete evidence was provided to support these claims, Israel pledged to release further information.
Meanwhile, on a different front, clashes between Israel and the powerful Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah have escalated along Israel’s northern border. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, disclosed that “all options” were on the table, hinting at a possible expansion of the Israel-Hamas conflict into Lebanon. He emphasized that the scale of fighting on the Lebanon-Israel border would not remain limited.
Hezbollah has been launching daily rocket attacks across the border in recent weeks, predominantly targeting military sites in northern Israel. Washington responded by deploying two aircraft carriers to the eastern Mediterranean to deter Hezbollah and its patron, Iran.
Israeli authorities have asserted that they would respond severely to any major Hezbollah attack. Nonetheless, both sides appear to be carefully calibrating their actions and rhetoric to avoid a large-scale confrontation.
Lt Col Richard Hecht, an IDF spokesperson, disclosed that Israeli forces had penetrated deeper into Gaza City and were engaged in close-quarters combat, aiming to neutralize Hamas bases, launchpads, and tunnels employed for attacks.
Finally, as the fighting in Gaza continues, Secretary Blinken conveyed that the United States is resolute in preventing the emergence of secondary or tertiary fronts in the ongoing conflict. The situation remains highly fluid, with continuous developments expected.