KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli warplanes struck a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip early Sunday, killing at least 33 people and wounding dozens, health officials said. The strike came as Israel said it would press on with its offensive to crush the territory’s Hamas rulers, despite U.S. appeals for a pause to get aid to desperate civilians.
The soaring death toll in Gaza has sparked growing international anger, with tens of thousands from Washington to Berlin taking to the streets Saturday to demand an immediate cease-fire.
Israel has rejected the idea of halting its offensive, even for brief humanitarian pauses proposed by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his current tour of the region. Instead, it said that the besieged enclave’s Hamas rulers were “encountering the full force” of its troops.
“Anyone in Gaza City is risking their life,” Israel’s Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant said.
Large columns of smoke rose as Israel’s military said it had encircled Gaza City, the initial target of its offensive against Hamas. Gaza’s Health Ministry has said more than 9,400 Palestinians have been killed in the territory in nearly a month of war, and that number is likely to rise as the assault continues.
Early Sunday, airstrikes hit the Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza, killing at least 33 people and wounding 42, said Ashraf al-Qidra, the spokesman for the Health Ministry.
He said first responders, aided by residents, were still searching the rubble for dead or possible survivors.
The camp, a built-up residential area, is located in the evacuation zone where Israel’s military had urged Palestinian civilians in Gaza to seek refuge as it focuses its military offensive in the northern areas.
Despite such appeals, Israel has continued its bombardment across Gaza, saying it is targeting Hamas fighters and assets everywhere. It has accused Hamas of using civilians as human shields.
Critics say Israel’s strikes are often disproportionate, considering the large number of women and children killed in such attacks.
Blinken met with Arab foreign ministers in Jordan on Saturday after talks in Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who insisted there could be no temporary cease-fire until all hostages held by Hamas are released.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said Arab countries want an immediate cease-fire, saying “the whole region is sinking in a sea of hatred that will define generations to come.”
Blinken, however, said “it is our view now that a cease-fire would simply leave Hamas in place, able to regroup and repeat what it did on Oct. 7,” when the group launched a wide-ranging attack from Gaza into southern Israel, triggering the war.
He said humanitarian pauses can be critical in protecting civilians, getting aid in and getting foreign nationals out, “while still enabling Israel to achieve its objective, the defeat of Hamas.”
Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan told reporters in Beirut that Blinken “should stop the aggression and should not come up with ideas that cannot be implemented.” The spokesman of the Hamas military wing, who goes by Abu Obeida, said in a speech that fighters had destroyed 24 Israeli vehicles and inflicted casualties in the past two days.
Egyptian officials said they and Qatar were proposing humanitarian pauses for six to 12 hours daily to allow aid in and casualties to be evacuated. They were also asking for Israel to release a number of women and elderly prisoners in exchange for hostages, suggestions Israel seemed unlikely to accept. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the press on the discussions.
Israel has repeatedly demanded that northern Gaza’s 1.1 million residents flee south, and on Saturday it offered a three-hour window for residents to do so. An Associated Press journalist on the road, however, saw nobody coming. The head of the government media office in Gaza, Salama Maarouf, said no one went south because the Israeli military had damaged the road.
Israel asserted that Hamas “exploited” the window to move south and attack its forces. There was no immediate Hamas comment on that claim, which was impossible to verify.
Some Palestinians said they didn’t flee because they feared Israeli bombardment.
“We don’t trust them,” said Mohamed Abed, who sheltered with his wife and children on the grounds of al-Shifa hospital, one of thousands of Palestinians seeking safety at medical centers in the north.
Swaths of residential neighborhoods in northern Gaza have been leveled in airstrikes. U.N. monitors say more than half of northern Gaza’s remaining residents, estimated at around 300,000, are sheltering in U.N.-run facilities. But deadly Israeli strikes have also repeatedly hit and damaged those shelters. The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees has said it has lost contact with many in the north.
An Israeli airstrike overnight struck a water well in Tal al-Zatar in northern Gaza, cutting off water for tens of thousands of people in the area, the Hamas-run municipality in the town of Beit Lahia said in a statement early Sunday.
At least 1,115 Palestinian dual nationals and wounded have exited Gaza into Egypt, but on Saturday authorities in Gaza didn’t allow foreign passport holders to leave because Israel was preventing the evacuation of Palestinian patients for treatment in Egypt, said Wael Abu Omar, a spokesman for the Palestinian Crossings Authority.
The U.N. said about 1.5 million people in Gaza, or 70% of the population, have fled their homes. Food, water and the fuel needed for generators that power hospitals and other facilities is running out.
Thousands of Israelis protested outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem, urging him to resign and calling for the return of roughly 240 hostages held by Hamas. Netanyahu has refused to take responsibility for the Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel that killed more than 1,400 people.
“I find it difficult to understand why trucks with humanitarian aid are going to monsters,” said Ella Ben Ami, whose parents were abducted. She called for aid to be halted until the hostages are released.
Air raid sirens sounded Saturday evening in southern Israel as Hamas launched rockets into Ashkelon. Rocket fire has continued in the area throughout the conflict, forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes.
The Israeli military said four more soldiers have died during the Gaza ground operation, bringing the confirmed death toll to 28.
Magdy reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Amman, Jordan contributed to this report.
Full AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war