Fighting rages at Al Shifa hospital, as Blinken enters Gaza talks in Cairo

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken 
chats to Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah in Jeddah on Wednesday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken chats to Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah in Jeddah on Wednesday. Photo: Saudi Foreign Ministry/EPA

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has arrived in Cairo for talks with Arab officials to push for a ceasefire in Gaza after Israel’s prime minister told US Republicans there would be no let up in the war against Hamas.

In Gaza itself, Israel’s military offensive centred on the Al Shifa hospital, the only partially working medical facility in the north of the strip, for a fourth day, and local residents said they had seen buildings in flames inside the complex.

Blinken began his latest Middle East tour on Wednesday in Saudi Arabia, meeting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud for talks on Gaza, where food shortages affect 2.3 million Palestinians and in some areas exceed famine levels, according to the United Nations.

“We’re pressing for an immediate ceasefire tied to the release of hostages. That would bring immediate relief to so many people who are suffering in Gaza – the children, the women, the men,” Blinken told the Arabic broadcaster Al Hadath.

He said the US had drafted a resolution at the United Nations to that effect.

Ceasefire talks resumed this week in Qatar after Israel rejected a Hamas proposal last week.

The sides are discussing a truce of about six weeks that would allow the release of 40 Israeli hostages in return for hundreds of Palestinians detained in Israeli jails.

However, Hamas says it will release hostages only as part of an agreement that would end the war, while Israel says it will discuss only a temporary pause.

“I think the gaps are narrowing, and I think an agreement is very much possible,” Blinken told Al Hadath.

“The Israeli team is present, has authority to reach an agreement.”

Near Al Shifa, residents told Reuters via a chat app that the army had blown up houses close by as buildings in the hospital complex burned.

Israel said its troops had killed more than 50 Hamas gunmen over the previous day, taking the number of fighters killed around the hospital to 140.

It said it had found terrorist infrastructure and weapons in and around the facility, showing images of AK-47 automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and other artillery.

Military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said “many Hamas terrorists – operatives and senior ones” had been hiding in the hospital along with Islamic Jihad militants.

Hamas denied the hospital harboured militants and said those killed were wounded patients and displaced people.

Video released by Hamas showed its militants outside the Al Shifa compound, carrying weapons and firing on Israeli tanks in streets reduced to rubble.

The position of the buildings and outline matched satellite imagery checked by Reuters.

Blinken was due to meet foreign ministers from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan on Thursday, as well as the Emirati international co-operation minister and the general secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s ) executive committee, the Egyptian foreign ministry said.

In his meeting with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince on Wednesday, Blinken reaffirmed the US commitment to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with security guarantees for Israel.

The officials are pushing for an end to six months of fighting that has killed almost 32,000 Palestinians, with 65 killed in the previous 24 hours, according to Gaza health authorities.

The war was triggered by militants from Hamas, which controls Gaza, storming into southern Israel on October 7, killing about 1200 people and taking 253 hostages, by Israeli tallies.

The ministry gave no details of the talks, but Egyptian sources said Arab nations would stress the urgency of finding a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed US Republican senators on Wednesday, telling them Israel would continue its efforts to defeat Hamas.

His comments underlined growing strains with the US administration of President Joe Biden, which has urged Israel to do more to ease the humanitarian crisis and protect civilians.


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