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Blinken urges Israel to take steps to avoid civilian casualties as Gaza death toll soars

JERUSALEM: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken appealed to Israel on Friday (Nov 3) to take steps to protect civilians in Gaza as its forces kept up their bombardment of the Palestinian enclave and the death toll among residents soared.

The Israeli military said its troops were fighting Hamas militants in close-quarter combat in the ruined streets after encircling Gaza City in their bid to wipe out the militant group that controls the small, densely populated territory.

Israeli forces also pounded Gaza from ground, sea and air throughout the night amid rising global alarm over scarcities, collapsing medical services and a civilian death toll that has now surpassed 9,000.

Blinken was visiting the region for the second time in less than a month to show support for close ally Israel in its response to the Oct 7 Hamas militant attack on southern Israeli communities that killed some 1,400 people and triggered the war.

Speaking before meeting Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Blinken reiterated that Israel has a right to “do everything possible” to ensure that such an attack never happens again.

But he added: “It is very important when it comes to protection of civilians who are caught in the crossfire of Hamas’ making, that everything be done to protect them and to bring assistance to those who so desperately need it, who are not in any way responsible for what happened on Oct 7.”

Washington has dismissed calls from Arab and several other nations for a full ceasefire in the war – now in its 28th day – but wants more temporary and local pauses in fighting to allow aid to get into Gaza and for hostages taken by Hamas to leave.

Food, fuel, water and medicine are running out in Gaza, buildings have been flattened and thousands of people have fled their homes to escape relentless bombing.

Aid agencies have warned that a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in the bloodiest episode in decades in the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Blinken also spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for almost an hour before both met with members of Israel’s emergency cabinet, formed after the Hamas assault.

Gaza health authorities say at least 9,227 people – many of them women and children – have been killed since Israel started its blitz on the enclave of 2.3 million people in retaliation for the Hamas rampage in southern Israel.

Israel says the Iran-backed Hamas killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and took more than 240 hostages in the deadliest day of its 75-year history.

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