The United States and its Arab allies appeared divided over calls for a ceasefire in Israel’s military offensive against Hamas, as the US pushed for a more temporary pause in fighting amid growing global anger over the rising death toll among Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip.
On Saturday, several Middle East foreign ministers urged the US to persuade Israel to agree to a ceasefire in a meeting with the secretary of state, Antony Blinken. The top US diplomat, however, dismissed the idea, saying such a halt would only benefit Hamas, allowing the militant organisation to regroup and attack again.
The diplomatic wrangling came as the conflict entered its fifth week, with reports that more than 30 people were killed in a strike on a refugee camp in central Gaza.
Palestinian news agency Wafa was the first to report on the bombing at Gaza’s Maghazi refugee camp late on Saturday. Gaza’s Hamas-controlled health ministry said Israel had attacked the camp, adding that most of the dead were women and children.
An Israeli military spokesperson said it was looking into whether the Israel Defence Forces had been operating in the area at the time of the bombing.
Earlier on Saturday, Palestinians reported a deadly Israeli strike on a UN-run school in northern Gaza serving as a shelter.
Witnesses said the strike hit the al-Fakhoura school in Jabalia, where thousands of evacuees were living. At least 15 people died and dozens more were wounded, said a Gaza health ministry official, Mohammad Abu Selmeyah.
Israel vowed to destroy Hamas after the 7 October attack on communities near the border with Gaza which killed more than 1,400 people, mainly civilians. More than 240 Israeli and foreign hostages were also abducted during the attack.
The health ministry in Gaza says more than 9,480 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, have been killed in Israeli strikes and the intensifying ground campaign.
The growing number of civilian deaths has intensified international calls for a ceasefire. The US has sought to persuade the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to accept localised pauses in fighting, but after meeting with Blinken on Friday the Israeli leader said there could be no “temporary truce” unless Hamas released the hostages it holds in Gaza.
On Saturday, Hamas officials said that more than 60 of the hostages being held in Gaza were missing after Israeli airstrikes. Late last month, Hamas said an estimated 50 captives held by the group were killed in strikes on Gaza.
Israel’s defence minister, Yoav Gallant, said troops were fighting “hard” in Gaza, while the Israeli military’s chief of staff, Lt Gen Herzi Halevi, visited troops inside Gaza after they completed an encirclement of Gaza City.
The Israeli military describes Gaza City as “the centre of the Hamas terror organisation”, but the US special envoy for aid assistance, David Satterfield, said between 350,000 and 400,000 civilians remained in the city and adjacent areas.
The ongoing fighting has provoked political opposition from key regional powers, including Turkey, which on Saturday recalled its ambassador from Israel, hours before Blinken was set to arrive in Ankara for meetings with local officials.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters he held Netanyahu personally responsible for the growing civilian death toll in Gaza. Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson Lior Haiat said the move was “another step by the Turkish president that sides with the Hamas terrorist organisation”.
On Saturday, protests were held outside Netanyahu’s residence. Waving blue and white Israeli flags and chanting “Jail now!”, a crowd in the hundreds pushed through police barriers around the prime minister’s home in Jerusalem and were held back by police.
The protest, which coincided with a poll showing more than three-quarters of Israelis believe Netanyahu should resign, underlined the growing public fury at their political and security leaders.
Thousands also demonstrated in Tel Aviv, waving flags and holding photographs of some of the captives in Gaza and posters with slogans like “Release the hostages now at all costs” while crowds chanted “bring them home now”.
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators also staged protests on Saturday in cities around the world, including London, Berlin, Paris, Istanbul and Washington, to demand a ceasefire.
Reuters, the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report