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Israel said its forces had surrounded Gaza City as US secretary of state Antony Blinken arrived in Israel to push for a “pause” in hostilities to allow aid into Gaza and help free hostages held captive there by Hamas.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israeli troops were “already on the outskirts of Gaza City”. “We . . . are advancing with determination,” he said.
The advance comes ahead of an expected address by Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Iran-backed Lebanese militant organisation Hizbollah, to his followers on Friday, his first public comments since the war between Israel and Hamas broke out.
Israel attacked Gaza after Hamas’s deadly assault on the Jewish state on October 7 that killed 1,400 people, according to Israeli officials. Hamas took 242 hostages.
After an intense aerial bombardment of Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces launched their ground incursion into the enclave last Friday and now say they have completely encircled Gaza City, Hamas’s political and military base.
More than 9,000 people have died in Gaza since the war started, according to health officials in the enclave. Aid agencies have warned of a humanitarian catastrophe as the area runs out of food, water, medicine and fuel.
The suffering of Gaza’s civilian population has stoked international demands for a ceasefire, an option the IDF said on Thursday was “not on the table”.
But the US is keen to try and establish localised pauses in fighting that will make it easier to bring in aid to the beleaguered population.
Before leaving the US, Blinken said he would talk to the Israeli government about “concrete steps that can and should be taken to minimise harm to men, women and children in Gaza”.
US national security spokesperson John Kirby said: “What we’re trying to do is explore the idea of as many pauses as might be necessary to continue to get aid [in] and to continue to work to get people out safely, including hostages.”
Blinken’s visit to Israel, his second in the past month, is the first leg of a diplomatic tour of the Middle East. From Tel Aviv he will travel to Jordan, which has recalled its ambassador to Israel, accusing the country of creating an “unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza.
Analysts expect Nasrallah will use his speech to set out Hizbollah’s next moves amid growing concerns in Israel that the country’s border with Lebanon could become another front in the war.
Hizbollah said on Thursday it had launched two drones laden with explosives into a sliver of disputed territory called Shebaa Farms, at present occupied by Israel. It was the first time the group claimed to have used explosive drones against Israel.
Hamas fighters in Lebanon also fired rockets into Israeli communities near the border on Thursday, hitting a building in the city of Kiryat Shmona. Israel said it responded by sending planes and helicopters to attack Hizbollah targets in Lebanon.
Israel reported intense fighting inside Gaza overnight. IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari said late on Thursday that Israeli forces continued to wage fierce battles against militants “while locating many weapons and destroying terrorist infrastructure, alongside military compounds of the Hamas organisation”.
The IDF said on Friday that Hamas fighters fired anti-tank missiles at their troops, activated several improvised explosive devices and attempted to climb on to the military’s armoured vehicles. Hamas said it was hitting back at Israeli forces with hit-and-run attacks from underground tunnels.
Israel also announced it was sending back Gazans who were still working in the country at the outbreak of the war. “Israel is severing all contact with Gaza,” Netanyahu said in a post on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. “There will be no more Palestinian workers from Gaza.”