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Blinken visits West Bank as fierce fighting continues in Gaza

Top US diplomat Antony Blinken made a surprise visit to the occupied West Bank on Sunday, meeting with Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas as Israel…

Top US diplomat Antony Blinken made a surprise visit to the occupied West Bank on Sunday, meeting with Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas as Israel pressed its war to destroy Hamas which has already claimed thousands of lives.

Blinken arrived in Ramallah under tight security one day after meeting in Jordan with Arab foreign ministers angered by mounting civilian deaths in Gaza, where the Hamas-run health ministry said dozens were killed in a strike on a refugee camp.

Washington has rebuffed calls for a ceasefire, instead backing Israel’s goal of crushing Hamas militants who staged the deadliest attack in the country’s history on October 7, killing more than 1,400 people and taking 240 hostages, according to Israeli officials.

Israel has relentlessly bombarded the besieged Gaza Strip in response, levelling entire city blocks and killing more than 9,480 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Blinken last week told a Senate hearing the Palestinian Authority should retake control of Gaza, even though it currently exercises only limited autonomy in parts of the West Bank and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long sought to sideline it.

The Israel-Hamas war has exacerbated tensions in the West Bank, where more than 150 Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli forces and in settler attacks, including three young men killed by Israeli forces on Sunday, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Refugee camp attacked
Ground battles raged on Sunday in northern Gaza, where Israeli troops tightening their encirclement of Gaza City – still home to hundreds of thousands of civilians – were seen engaged in house-to-house battles as tanks and armoured bulldozers churned through the sand in footage released by the army.

In a video taken from Israel’s Sderot along the border with the Gaza Strip, an Israeli flag was seen raised on top of a destroyed building.

Since Israel sent ground forces into the north of the narrow Palestinian territory late last month, “over 2,500 terror targets have been struck” by “ground, air and naval forces”, the army said on Sunday.

Leaflets dropped by the army again urged Gaza City residents to evacuate south between 10 am (0800 GMT) and 2pm (1200 GMT), a day after a US official said at least 350,000 civilians remained in and around the city that is now an urban war zone.

In the latest strikes in Gaza, the Hamas-run health ministry said, Israeli bombing of the Al-Maghazi refugee camp late Saturday killed 45 people, with an eyewitness reporting children dead and homes smashed.

“An Israeli air strike targeted my neighbours’ house in Al-Maghazi camp, my house next door partially collapsed,” said Mohammed Alaloul, 37, a journalist working for the Turkish Anadolu Agency.

Alaloul told AFP his 13-year-old son, Ahmed, and his four-year-old son, Qais, were killed in the bombing, along with his brother. His wife, mother and two other children were injured.

A military spokesperson said they were looking into whether their forces had been operating in the area at the time of the bombing.

More than 240 Israeli and foreign hostages were abducted by Hamas, officials say, and Netanyahu has rebuffed proposals of a truce until the Islamist group releases them all.

Blinken faced a rising tide of anger in meetings with Arab foreign ministers in Jordan on Saturday, where he reaffirmed US support for “humanitarian pauses” to ensure desperate civilians get help, a day after Netanyahu gave the idea short shrift.

Blinken was later headed to Turkey whose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has held Netanyahu personally responsible for the growing civilian death toll in Gaza.

Turkey on Saturday said it was recalling its ambassador to Israel and breaking off contacts with Netanyahu.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, whose country has been acting as the sole conduit for foreigners to escape the Gaza Strip and for aid to get in, called for an “immediate and comprehensive ceasefire”.

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