The United States yesterday expressed growing concern about the rising Palestinian death toll in the Gaza Strip where health officials said the number killed in a five-week-old Israeli bombardment had topped 11,000.
In his strongest comments to date on the plight of civilians caught in the Gaza cross-fire, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on a visit to India: “Far too many Palestinians have been killed; far too many have suffered these past weeks.”
Blinken welcomed the four-hour humanitarian Israeli pauses that the White House announced on Thursday but told reporters more action was needed to protect Gaza’s civilians.
French President Emmanuel Macron told the BBC in an interview published late yesterday that Israel must stop bombing Gaza and killing civilians.
Macron said there was “no justification” for the bombing and saying a ceasefire would benefit Israel.
He said that France “clearly condemns” the “terrorist” actions of Hamas, but that while recognising Israel’s right to protect itself, “we do urge them to stop this bombing” in Gaza.
When asked if he wanted other leaders - including in the United Sates and Britain - to join his calls for a ceasefire, Macron said: “I hope they will.”
Speaking the day after a humanitarian aid conference in Paris about the war in Gaza, Macron said the “clear conclusion” of all governments and agencies present at that summit was “that there is no other solution than first a humanitarian pause, going to a ceasefire, which will allow to protect... all civilians having nothing to do with terrorists”.
“De facto - today, civilians are bombed - de facto. These babies, these ladies, these old people are bombed and killed. So there is no reason for that and no legitimacy. So we do urge Israel to stop,” he said.
Israel has faced growing calls for restraint in its month-long war with Hamas but says the group, which attacked Israel on October 7 and took hostages, would exploit a truce to regroup.
“Israel is now launching a war on Gaza City hospitals,” said Mohammad Abu Selmeyah, director of Al Shifa hospital.
He said later that at least 25 people were killed in Israeli strikes on Al-Buraq school in Gaza City, where people whose homes had been destroyed were sheltering.
Palestinian officials said yesterday that 11,078 Gaza residents had been killed in air and artillery strikes since October 7.
Israel had said 1,400 people were killed, mostly civilians, and about 240 were taken hostage by Hamas on October 7, while 39 soldiers have been killed in combat since. Yesterday Israel’s Foreign Ministry said a revised death toll from the attack stood at about 1,200.
The White House said on Thursday that Israel agreed to pause military operations in parts of north Gaza for four hours a day, and the army said Palestinians yesterday were allowed to leave over seven hours along a road south, but there was no sign of a let-up in the fighting.
Palestinians said an Israeli missile struck the road used by people to flee south and Hamas-run media said three people were killed.
More than 100,000 residents had fled south over the last two days as Israeli forces operate “deep in Gaza City”, chief military spokesperson Daniel Hagari said.
But evacuations from Gaza into Egypt for foreign passport holders and for Palestinians needing urgent treatment were suspended yesterday, sources said. A Palestinian official and an Egyptian medical source blamed problems bringing medical evacuees to the Rafah border crossing from inside Gaza.
Sirens sounded in Tel Aviv and surrounding areas to alert people to Hamas rocket fire. Medics reported two women in Tel Aviv suffered shrapnel wounds from a salvo.
The armed wing of Hamas said yesterday it was still firing rockets and shells into Israel and fighting off troops in Gaza.
Gaza’s hospitals were struggling to cope, even before the conflict closed in on them, with medical supplies, clean water and fuel to power generators running out.
In the wake of the blast at Shifa hospital, many people fled. Ayman Al Masri, wounded early in the war, told Reuters he had taken shelter there with his mother and sister 10 days ago.
“We want a truce, we want a solution, a political solution. Tens of our children are killed every day,” he said.
More than 100 United Nations employees have been killed since the Israel-Hamas war began in Gaza, the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) said yesterday, making it the deadliest conflict ever for the UN in such a short period of time.
Some were killed queuing for bread; others died along with their families in their homes, UNRWA told Reuters, as Israel’s devastating aerial and ground war against Hamas in densely populated Gaza continued.
“Devastated. Over 100 UNRWA colleagues confirmed killed in 1 month. Parents, teachers, nurses, doctors, support staff. UNRWA is mourning, Palestinians mourning, Israelis mourning,” Philippe Lazzarini said on social media platform X. The agency later said it was mourning 101 colleagues.
“They represent what is happening to the people of Gaza. They happen to work for the UN,” said Juliette Touma, Director of Communications at UNRWA. “They and every other civilian in the Gaza Strip...should never have been killed.”
UN staff around the world will observe a minute of silence and flags will fly at half mast on Monday, the global body said.
Besides Gaza, the next most deadly conflicts for UN aid workers was Nigeria in 2011 when a suicide bomber attacked its Abuja office during an Islamist insurgency, killing 46.
The ongoing South Sudan conflict has killed 33 UN staff, and another 33 were killed in Afghanistan in 2009 as US troops battled the Taliban, according to the Aid Worker Security Database, a US-funded platform that compiles reports on major security incidents affecting aid workers.
In addition, seven other non-UN Palestinian aid workers have been killed in Gaza, the database showed.
Aid workers enjoy protection under international humanitarian law but experts cite few precedents for such cases going to trial, with concerns about ensuring future access for aid groups and difficulty proving intent cited as impediments.
Meanwhile, more than 1,000 officials in the US Agency for International Development (USAID) have signed an open letter urging the Biden administration to call for an immediate ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas, according to a copy of the letter seen by Reuters.
The letter is latest sign of unease within the US government over President Joe Biden’s unwavering support for Israel in its response to the October 7 attacks by Hamas.
“As development, public health, and humanitarian assistance professionals, we are alarmed and disheartened at the numerous violations of international law; laws which aim to protect civilians, medical and media personnel, as well as schools, hospitals, and places of worship,” the letter reads.
The letter, published on November 2, had now garnered 1,029 signatures from staff of the US aid agency. Signatories names are hidden but the letter shows it was signed by officials in many of the agency’s bureaus in Washington as well as officials posted around the world.
USAID did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It comes amid protests calling for a ceasefire in the United States and elsewhere, and widespread concern among officials over the US response to the Middle East crisis, which has included the public resignation of one State Department official who said he opposed continued lethal assistance to Israel.
A source familiar with the matter said there has been “deep frustration” in the aftermath of October 7 and how the administration has given what the sources see as a “carte-blanche” to Israel, allowing it conduct a military offensive in Gaza.
The source said they were aware of at least four cables that have been drafted for the State Department’s internal “dissent channel,” which allows diplomats to raise concerns about policy anonymously with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The State Department does not confirm the existence of dissent cables.
The department has held a number of listening sessions in the past month, including in US missions in the Middle East, two sources who attended the sessions said.