Blinken, in phone call with minister, urges Israel to do more to protect civilians in south Gaza

blinken, in phone call with minister, urges israel to do more to protect civilians in south gaza

An explosion takes place during Israeli air strikes over Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from southern Israel, December 7, 2023. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Israel’s strategic affairs minister on Thursday, a senior State Department official said, and told him Israel needs to do more to protect civilians in its offensive in southern Gaza.

Blinken also urged minister Ron Dermer to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza while welcoming Israel’s decision to allow more fuel into the densely populated enclave, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Israel battled Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip’s biggest cities on Thursday and said it had attacked dozens of targets, leaving 350 Palestinians dead and the rest struggling to survive in rapidly shrinking areas of refuge.

On his third trip to the Middle East since the Hamas attack on Israel from Gaza on Oct. 7, Blinken last week pressed the Israeli government to ensure its offensive in southern Gaza does not inflict the “massive” casualties that its military operation in the north has caused.

However, almost a week into the resumption of hostilities, the death toll has already soared to hundreds of Palestinians and Gazans crammed into Rafah on the southern border with Egypt, with hospitals overcrowded and aid not sufficient to meet needs, according to the U.N. Palestinian Refugee Agency (UNRWA).

More than 17,170 Palestinians have been killed and 46,000 wounded, according to the Gaza health ministry, since Oct. 7, when Israel began bombarding Gaza in response to a cross-border rampage by Hamas militants who control the enclave. The Hamas attack killed 1,200 people, with 240 people taken hostage, according to Israel’s tally.

blinken, in phone call with minister, urges israel to do more to protect civilians in south gaza

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv, Israel November 30, 2023. Saul Loeb/Pool via REUTERS

U.S. officials have so far refrained from criticizing how Israel has conducted its operations and have said it was too early to make a final assessment on whether Israel was heeding U.S. advice to do everything it can to minimize civilian harm.

(Reporting by Simon Lewis and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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