Israeli Forces Encircle Gaza City as Blinken Pushes for Humanitarian Aid Amid Rising Death Toll

Personnel of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), take position during ground operations at a location given as Gaza, November 1. via Israel Defense Forces

In a significant escalation of the ongoing conflict, Israeli ground forces have completed the encirclement of Gaza City, as the conflict with Hamas militants intensifies. The military operation coincides with the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is advocating for “concrete steps” to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties.

Fighting erupted following Hamas’ deadly raids on October 7, leaving a staggering number of casualties. According to Israeli officials, the raids resulted in over 1,400 deaths. In contrast, the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry reports the death toll at more than 9,000, predominantly women and children.

Amidst the chaos, fresh Israeli strikes have battered the Gaza Strip, causing numerous fatalities, including in the Zeitun neighborhood and Jabalia refugee camp. Despite Blinken’s call for reducing civilian harm, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that Israeli troops are advancing with “very impressive successes” and will not cease their operations.

An Israeli artillery unit fires during a drill in the annexed Golan Heights as Israel braces for a possible regional flare up © Jalaa MAREY / AFP

Israel has been firm in its stance, claiming Gaza City as the hub of Hamas’ terror activities. However, this has resulted in a humanitarian crisis, with civilians enduring relentless bombings and a severe scarcity of essentials.

The international community has raised alarms, with a cohort of UN-mandated human rights experts warning of an imminent genocide and humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. These independent experts are pushing for an urgent “humanitarian ceasefire” and the release of all civilians held since the onset of the conflict.

Despite global concern, Israel and the U.S. have dismissed a blanket ceasefire, arguing it would permit Hamas to rebuild its forces. President Joe Biden has suggested a “temporary, localized” cessation to facilitate humanitarian efforts.

The escalation has triggered a diplomatic backlash, with countries recalling ambassadors and Bolivia severing ties with Israel. However, Israel insists that areas like Jabalia are legitimate military targets.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wants to talk to Israel about ‘concrete steps’ to minimise harm to Gaza’s civilian population as it presses an offensive to destroy Hamas © JONATHAN ERNST / POOL/AFP

On the diplomatic front, Blinken is scheduled for talks in Israel and Jordan to discuss the implementation of a humanitarian “pause.” However, Netanyahu’s administration has not formally responded to Biden’s proposal.

On the ground, an Israeli airstrike devastated a residential building in the Bureij refugee camp, signaling no respite in the offensive. Civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict as Israeli troops move closer to Gaza City’s densely populated neighborhoods.

The U.S. has affirmed its steadfast support for Israel while pressing for increased humanitarian aid to Gaza. The destruction and humanitarian toll have sparked concern across the region, with more than 3,700 Palestinian children reported killed in the fighting, a figure surpassing the child fatalities in 19 months of conflict in Ukraine.

Israel has facilitated the entry of aid trucks into Gaza, but the amount falls short of what is desperately needed. Simultaneously, Israel’s military has tried to mitigate international concern, asserting its war is with Hamas, not Gaza’s civilians.

Palestinians cross to the Egyptian side of the border crossing with the Gaza Strip in Rafah Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

Secretary Blinken’s upcoming talks in the region are fraught with the complex issue of what comes after the dismantling of Hamas’ rule in Gaza. There’s speculation that the Palestinian Authority might assume governance, but the feasibility remains uncertain.

As international pressure mounts, more evacuations from Gaza through the Rafah crossing into Egypt are underway, offering some a route out of the war zone.

The death toll, already unprecedented in decades of Israeli-Palestinian violence, continues to climb as the conflict shows no signs of abating, with both sides preparing for more intensive military engagements.