RAMALLAH — President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas has denounced the “genocide” carried out in the Gaza Strip by Israel.
Abbas was speaking during a meeting with the American Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“Once again, we meet in the harshest conditions possible, I have no words to describe the war of genocide and the destruction suffered by our Palestinian people in Gaza at the hands of the military apparatus of Israel, without any respect for the principles of international law,” Abbas said in Ramallah, where he received the American official.
The meeting comes at a time when the international community fears that the war between Israel and Hamas could extend to the West Bank and beyond.
This is the first time that the American Secretary of State has visited the occupied West Bank since the start of the war on 7 October triggered by the bloody attack by Hamas on Israeli soil, after having made several trips to Israel and in Jordan.
The soaring death toll in Gaza has sparked growing international anger, with tens of thousands from Washington to Berlin taking to the streets Saturday to demand an immediate cease-fire.
Israel has rejected the idea of halting its offensive, even for brief humanitarian pauses proposed by Blinken during his current tour of the region. Instead, it said that the besieged enclave’s Hamas rulers were “encountering the full force” of its troops.
“Anyone in Gaza City is risking their life,” Israel’s Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant said.
Large columns of smoke rose as Israel’s military said it had encircled Gaza City, the initial target of its offensive against Hamas. Gaza’s Health Ministry has said more than 9,400 Palestinians have been killed in the territory in nearly a month of war, and that number is likely to rise as the assault continues.
Early Sunday, airstrikes hit the Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza, killing at least 33 people and wounding 42, said Ashraf al-Qidra, the spokesman for the Health Ministry.
He said first responders, aided by residents, were still searching the rubble for dead or possible survivors.
The camp, a built-up residential area, is located in the evacuation zone where Israel’s military had urged Palestinian civilians in Gaza to seek refuge as it focused its military offensive in the northern areas.
Despite such appeals, Israel has continued its bombardment across Gaza, saying it is targeting Hamas fighters and assets everywhere. It has accused Hamas of using civilians as human shields.
Blinken met with Arab foreign ministers in Jordan on Saturday after talks in Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who insisted there could be no temporary ceasefire until all hostages held by Hamas are released.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said Arab countries want an immediate ceasefire, saying “the whole region is sinking in a sea of hatred that will define generations to come.”
Blinken, however, said “it is our view now that a ceasefire would simply leave Hamas in place, able to regroup and repeat what it did on October 7,” when the group launched a wide-ranging attack from Gaza into southern Israel, triggering the war.
He said humanitarian pauses can be critical in protecting civilians, getting aid in and getting foreign nationals out, “while still enabling Israel to achieve its objective, the defeat of Hamas.”
Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan told reporters in Beirut that Blinken “should stop the aggression and should not come up with ideas that cannot be implemented.” The spokesman of the Hamas military wing, who goes by Abu Obeida, said in a speech that fighters had destroyed 24 Israeli vehicles and inflicted casualties in the past two days.
Blinken later flew to Baghdad for talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani as American forces in the region face a surge of attacks by Iranian-allied militias in Iraq and elsewhere.
From Baghdad Blinken traveled to Turkey.
President Joe Biden’s top diplomat traveled through the West Bank city of Ramallah in an armored motorcade and under tight security. It was his third day of shuttle diplomacy aimed at trying to limit the destabilizing regional fallout from the war.
“This is a process,” Blinken told reporters on the matter Sunday. “Israel has raised important questions about how humanitarian pauses would work. We’ve got to answer those questions,” including how pauses would affect Hamas hostages. “We’re working on exactly that.’’
The Biden administration, while remaining the strongest backer of Israel’s military response to Hamas’ attacks on Oct. 7, is increasingly seeking to use its influence with Israel to try to temper the effect of Israel’s weeks of complete siege and near round-the-clock air, ground and sea assaults in Gaza, home to 2.3 million civilians.
Blinken’s meeting with Abbas in the West Bank came on the same day that Israeli planes bombed two refugee camps in Gaza, killing at least 53 people, according to health officials in Gaza.
An Associated Press reporter saw the dead bodies of eight children brought in to a nearby Gaza hospital after one of those strikes. Israel’s military announced its forces had effectively split the Gaza Strip in two before an expected escalated assault on Hamas targets in the north.
As word spread of Blinken’s arrival in Ramallah, Palestinians turned out to protest US support for Israel’s war. Demonstrators held signs showing dripping blood and with messages that included, “Blinken blood is on your hands.”
Blinken said in Baghdad that the Palestinian Authority “is playing a very important role right now in the West Bank in trying to keep stability there. That’s hugely important because no one wants another front in the West Bank or anywhere else, and they’re really stepping up under very difficult conditions to do the necessary work.”
He said that “what we all agree” is that in shaping a future for Gaza, the West Bank and “ultimately” for a Palestinian state, “Palestinian voices have to be at the center of that. The Palestinian Authority is the representative of those voices so it’s important that it play a leading role.’’
Abbas, however, said the Palestinian Authority would only assume power in Gaza as part of a “comprehensive political solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to the Palestinians’ official WAFA news agency.
Arab states are resisting American suggestions that they play a larger role in resolving the crisis, expressing outrage at the civilian toll of the Israeli military operations but believing Gaza to be a problem largely of Israel’s own making. — Agencies