Israel strikes southern Gaza as Blinken in Egypt for talks

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Israel bombarded the southern Gaza Strip Thursday as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Egypt on the final leg of regional talks aimed at preventing the Israel-Hamas war from spreading.

His arrival coincided with the start of a hearing at the U.N.’s top court over accusations Israel has committed “genocidal acts” in Gaza.

“The situation is such that the experts are now predicting that more people in Gaza may die from starvation and disease” than from military action, said Adila Hassim, a top lawyer for South Africa, which has brought the case against Israel.

In Cairo, Blinken was to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, whose country is a mediator in the Gaza war now in its fourth month.

Blinken’s nine-country Middle East trip is concluding after Wednesday’s U.N. Security Council resolution that demanded Iran-backed Yemeni rebels “immediately cease” attacks which have disrupted shipping in the Red Sea.

 

Hamas’s press office said early Thursday that 62 people had been killed in strikes overnight, including around Gaza’s main southern city of Khan Yunis.

Israel’s military said in a statement on Thursday that “underground combat” led to the discovery of more than 300 tunnel shafts under Khan Yunis, and that “Israeli hostages had been inside” one vast tunnel.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said an Israeli strike on an ambulance in central Gaza killed four medics and two other passengers on Wednesday.

Israel’s military did not immediately comment on the incident when contacted by AFP.

 Makeshift clinic 

The war has triggered an acute humanitarian crisis, with an Israeli siege sparking acute shortages of food, water, fuel and medicine.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday said there are “nearly insurmountable challenges” to aid delivery in Gaza.

“Intense bombardment, restrictions on movement, fuel shortages, and interrupted communications make it impossible for WHO and our partners to reach those in need,” he told reporters.

The WHO says only a few Gaza hospitals are even partly functioning.

The United Nations estimates 1.9 million Gazans have been uprooted by the war.

Before his final stop in Egypt, Blinken sketched out a possible post-war future for Gaza after meeting Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, and Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa on Wednesday.

Blinken told Abbas that Washington supported “tangible steps” towards the creation of a Palestinian state — a long-term goal that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right government has opposed.

In Bahrain, Blinken said Abbas was “committed” to reforming the Palestinian Authority “so that it can effectively take responsibility for Gaza, so that Gaza and the West Bank can be reunited under a Palestinian leadership”.

Abbas, 88, is widely unpopular in the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority has partial administrative control and the Israel-Hamas war has led to increased popular support for Hamas.

 Spike in regional unrest 

Violence involving Iran-backed armed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen has spiked during the war, leading to heightened fears of a wider conflict.

Yemen’s Huthi rebels, who say they are acting in support of the Palestinians, have carried out numerous attacks on merchant ships in the Red Sea, a vital artery for international trade.

Washington has set up a multinational naval task force to protect shipping from the attacks, which Blinken on Wednesday said were “aided and abetted” by Iran and would bring “consequences” if they continue.

On Thursday armed men in “military-style” uniforms boarded an oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman, a maritime risk management company said.

Gaza violence,

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