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Israeli troops enter Gaza City as U.S. presses for a pause in fighting

By Victoria Kim, Hiba Yazbek and Richard Pérez-Peña New York Times

With Israeli forces surrounding and venturing into Gaza City, and extending their devastating bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip, international criticism of Israel’s war effort mounted Thursday, and the Biden administration pushed for a humanitarian pause in the fighting.

Rescue efforts pressed ahead Thursday in Jabalia, a densely populated area just north of Gaza City where Israeli airstrikes have leveled whole blocks and the ground forces of Israel and Hamas, the group that controls Gaza, have engaged in fierce urban combat.

The Gazan health ministry said Thursday that more than 1,000 people had been injured, killed or were missing in Israeli airstrikes on Jabalia on Tuesday and Wednesday, and that another strike Thursday morning in the same neighborhood had hit a school and injured several people. Figures from the ministry, part of the Hamas-run government, could not be verified independently, but hospital officials in the area have reported dozens of people killed, at least, and hundreds wounded.

International humanitarian groups stepped up criticism of Israel’s campaign in response to the Hamas-led assault on Israel on Oct. 7, during which gunmen killed more than 1,400 people and kidnapped more than 200 hostages. Officials in Gaza say more than 9,000 people have been killed in Israeli airstrikes so far.

In addition to the bombardment and a ground invasion that began Friday, Israel has prevented vital supplies from reaching Gaza; limited deliveries of food, water and medical supplies resumed Oct. 21, but aid groups say they are woefully inadequate. Critics say Israel’s conduct is out of proportion to the Hamas attacks and amounts to collective punishment of the civilian population. They have demanded a cease-fire.

White House officials said Thursday that Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was flying to Israel, would urge the government there to agree to a series of brief cessations of military operations in Gaza, allowing for hostages to be released safely and for humanitarian aid to be distributed.

President Joe Biden said Wednesday night that there should be a “pause” in the fighting and revealed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel had previously agreed to halt shelling briefly Oct. 20 to allow for the release of two Americans held hostage by Hamas: Judith Raanan, 59; and her daughter, Natalie Raanan, 17.

UNICEF, the U.N. agency for children, on Wednesday called the scenes of the aftermath of the Jabalia strikes “horrific and appalling.” Saying that an average of 400 children had been reported killed or injured each day over the past 25 days of Israel’s bombing campaign, the agency said: “This cannot become the new normal.”

The United Nations human rights office Thursday expressed “serious concerns that these are disproportionate attacks that could amount to war crimes,” citing the scale of casualties and destruction.

Netanyahu said Israel was “going out of our way to prevent civilian casualties,” but some were inevitable, with Hamas’ military wing deeply intertwined with Gaza’s communities, often sheltering in a network of tunnels beneath them.

Blinken, speaking to reporters before leaving for Israel, said “we will be talking about concrete steps that can and should be taken to minimize harm to men, women and children in Gaza.”

The ground invasion appeared to have entered a new phase, as Israeli officials said their troops had surrounded Gaza City and fighting within it. “The concept of a cease-fire is not currently on the table at all,” Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesperson, said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.