US, Arab leaders to meet over Gaza as Palestinian deaths mount

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to meet with Emirati, Saudi, Egyptian and Palestinian leaders in Jordan today

By Reuters

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Palestinians remove a dead horse as they check the damage on an ambulance after a convoy of ambulances was hit, at the entrance of Shifa hospital in Gaza City, November 3. — Reuters
Palestinians remove a dead horse as they check the damage on an ambulance after a convoy of ambulances was hit, at the entrance of Shifa hospital in Gaza City, November 3. — Reuters

Published: Sat 4 Nov 2023, 7:47 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Nov 2023, 7:52 AM

Amidst an escalating war and a deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, Washington's top diplomat is due to hear Arab leaders' demands for a ceasefire in a meeting that will be held in Jordan today.

On a visit to the region, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday and called for a humanitarian pause in fighting that he said would facilitate work to release hostages, allow aid into Gaza, but not prevent Israel from defending itself.

In a televised address, Netanyahu rejected the idea of a pause unless hostages are freed. "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," he said.

Today, Blinken will meet with Emirati, Saudi, Qatari,and Egyptian foreign ministers as well as Palestinian representatives in Amman, the Jordanian foreign ministry said.

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The Arab leaders will stress the "Arab stance calling for an immediate ceasefire, delivering humanitarian aid and ways of ending the dangerous deterioration that threatens the security of the region", the ministry said in a statement.

Washington has maintained robust military and political support for Israel, while calling on its ally to take steps to avoid civilian deaths and address Gaza's humanitarian crisis.

Strike on ambulance convoy

Gaza health officials said 15 people were killed in an Israeli air strike on an ambulance that the military said targeted Hamas militants.

The attack hit an ambulance that was part of a convoy carrying injured Palestinians at Gaza's biggest hospital, al-Shifa, health officials in Gaza said on Friday.

"Upon their arrival to Al Shifa, (Israel) directly targeted the convoy's second vehicle, committing a terrible massacre that claimed the lives of 15 (people) and wounded more than 60," health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al Qidra said.

Reuters
Reuters

Israel's military said it had identified and hit an ambulance "being used by a Hamas terrorist cell" in the battle zone, and that a number of Hamas fighters were killed.

"We emphasise that this area is a battle zone. Civilians in the area are repeatedly called upon to evacuate southwards for their own safety," the military said.

Hamas official Izzat El Reshiq said allegations its fighters were present were "baseless". The Israeli military gave no evidence to support its assertion that the ambulance was linked to Hamas but said it intended to release additional information.

Reuters was unable to independently verify accounts from either side.

Israel has accused Hamas of concealing command centres and tunnel entrances in Al Shifa, something Hamas and the hospital deny.

Israel's ground forces encircled Gaza City on Thursday after stepping up a bombing campaign it says aims at wiping out Hamas, after the group killed 1,400 people and took more than 240 others hostage in an October 7 assault in southern Israel.

Dire conditions

Israel last month ordered all civilians to leave the northern part of the Gaza Strip, including Gaza City, and head to the south of the enclave, which it has also continued to bomb.

Reuters
Reuters

Gaza's living conditions, already dire before the fighting, have deteriorated further. Food is scarce, residents have resorted to drinking salty water, medical services are collapsing and Gaza health officials say more than 9,250 Palestinians have been killed.

The UN humanitarian office OCHA estimates that nearly 1.5 million of Gaza's 2.3 million population are internally displaced.

Late on Friday, Gaza health officials said several Palestinians were killed and wounded in an Israeli strike on a school where hundreds of people were taking shelter.

Gaza health officials did not provide exact figures for the dead and injured. The Israeli military did not immediately provide comment on the incident.

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