Israeli army strikes ambulance convoy in Gaza as Blinken calls for humanitarian pause

The US Secretary of State asked Netanyahu in Tel Aviv for humanitarian pauses, and the Hezbollah leader warned that its involvement in the war will depend on how Israel acts in Gaza and on the Lebanese border itself

Guerra Israel y Palestina: Ataque a ambulancias de Al Shifa
A man, with victims at his feet, carries a body after an Israeli attack on an ambulance next to the entrance of Gaza's Al Shifa hospital, Nov. 3.Abed Khaled (Associated Press / LaPresse)
Antonio Pita

While U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday to do “more to protect civilians” in Gaza, several civilians were killed by Israeli airstrikes throughout the Strip. Two of those strikes were at the doors of hospitals. The first one was near the al-Shifa Hospital, where Israel struck an ambulance convoy that — according to the Israeli army — was being used by a “Hamas terrorist cell.” Television coverage from the site showed about a dozen lifeless bodies on the ground — half of them children —, Gazans lifting wounded from the ground and a convoy of Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances lined up, one of them stained with blood.

“We informed the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, we informed the whole world, that those victims were lined up in those ambulances,” said Ashraf al-Qudra, a spokesman for the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry in Gaza. He claims that there were two strikes: one at the gates of the al-Shifa Hospital and another in a square located one kilometer away, in the same capital surrounded by Israeli troops.

In a statement, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) assured that “several Hamas terrorist operatives were killed in the bombing” and emphasized that the area is a “combat zone” that civilians must evacuate. Some 20,000 Palestinians are sheltering from the attacks in al-Shifa, which the Israeli forces insist on evacuating because they claim it houses the Hamas command center underground.

Shortly after, Al-Jazeera captured another bombing in front of the Indonesian Hospital, in the Jabaliya refugee camp. According to its director, Atef al-Kahlut, some 50 people were killed, 40% of them children.

‘There is no place that is safe in Gaza’

Both centers are located in northern Gaza, which Israel is shelling incessantly and where it is pressuring civilians (including those in hospitals, who have received several warnings) to evacuate to the south of the enclave, so that the IDF may freely advance its mission to “destroy Hamas.” The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) has “lost contact with many of the shelters in the north,” its director in the Gaza Strip, Thomas White, said Friday. “These are people seeking refuge under the UN flag, protection under international humanitarian law […]. Let’s be very clear, there is no place that is safe in Gaza right now,” he added.

The dichotomy between the images of dead bodies in Gaza and the diplomatic handshakes in Israel was staggering. Less than 60 miles from Gaza, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated in Tel Aviv his support for Israel, which, he said, “has not only the right but the obligation to defend itself.” Yet, with hundreds of Palestinians being killed every day, the U.S. official asked Israel to “do more to protect Palestinian civilians” and to “do everything possible” to allow the entry of humanitarian aid through Egypt, which is limited to dozens of trucks per day and with no fuel.

In his third visit to the area, Blinken also had words for the West Bank, where ultranationalist Israeli settlers have driven hundreds of Palestinians from their homes and where the death toll is also unprecedented. There too, he said, civilians must be “protected” and “extreme violence against Palestinians must be stopped.”

The central theme of Blinken’s latest trip were the “humanitarian pauses” the U.S. wants Israel to implement in its intense bombardment campaign on Gaza. Beyond the U.S., the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, has also called for the same thing. The pauses would be linked to the release of the more than 200 hostages Hamas took to Gaza on Oct. 7. Negotiations to achieve both objectives are ongoing, while Israeli troops advance in the Palestinian enclave at greater speed. On the one hand, the pauses are a strategy to pressure Hamas to free the hostages. On the other hand, Israel is aware that, as the weeks pass and the corpses of Palestinian civilians pile up, the country will lose the international support it received following the Oct. 7 attack, when Hamas killed 1,400 people.

Heridos en Gaza tras ataque al hospital Al Shifa
Wounded Palestinians following an Israeli attack on an ambulance next to Al Shifa hospital in Gaza on Friday. Mohammed Al-Masri (REUTERS)

This Friday, for the time being, Netanyahu has been unequivocal: “We’re continuing with all our force and Israel is refusing a temporary truce that doesn’t include the release of our hostages,” he said after meeting with Blinken. That is, Israel will not accept trading thousands of Palestinian prisoners for the hostages held in Gaza, as Hamas has requested. Instead, the agreement would entail a pause in attacks for the exchange of hostages held in Gaza, as well as the easing of the Israeli siege on the Strip (while maintaining its veto on fuel entering the enclave and only allowing trucks with water, food, and medicine to reach the south of the territory), according to leaks to local media.

Hezbollah’s ‘constructive ambiguity’

After almost a month of silence, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese militia-party Hezbollah, gave his most awaited speech. Many eyes were on what message the most powerful armed group in the region would convey at an Israeli border, where the army is on “very high” alert. They already fought a war in 2006 that ended in a stalemate.

Aware of the expectation, Nasrallah did not only address the thousands of followers who listened to him on screens waving the yellow flags of the movement. He spoke with the rest of the world in mind and “with constructive ambiguity,” as he said when he stressed that “all options are on the table” on the Lebanese front. “And we can resort to them at any time,” he added.

Since the attack by Hamas, its ally in the so-called “Axis of Resistance,” Hezbollah has limited itself to skirmishes on the border in which it has lost half a hundred militiamen. Although unprecedented since the 2006 war, these attacks are far from Hezbollah’s potential, so they provoke more concern and military mobilization in Israel than deaths on the border.

Also aware of this, Nasrallah addressed both those who see his involvement as timid and those who fear an escalation that could lead to open regional war. To the former, he said that his current role “may seem small,” but it is the “most significant,” in terms of “tools, strategies, weapons and even objectives,” and forces Israel to send many troops to the northern border. But, above all, he has clarified, it is not final. “I assure you: this will not be the end, it will not be enough”, he pointed out with a boxing simile. “The end of this battle will be Gaza’s victory, and the defeat of this enemy.”

To the latter — those who fear that Hezbollah will drag a Lebanon in economic and institutional ruin into a war against the most powerful army in the Middle East — he said that if they had limited themselves to “issuing statements of condemnation,” Israel “would be attacking Gaza with full force.” “Some will say we are playing with fire, but [what we are doing] makes sense,” he said.

Amidst triumphalist rhetoric and many references to the fragility shown by Israel in the Hamas attack, which he defined as a security, military, political, diplomatic and even psychological “earthquake,” Nasrallah sent a quite clear message: Hezbollah will come more or less into play depending on two elements. One: “the development of events in Gaza.” And the other is the shared border itself, where Hezbollah has threatened to take an Israeli life for every civilian killed in Lebanon.

Manifestación en apoyo a Hassan Nasrallah, líder de Hezbolá .
Seguidores del líder de Hezbolá, Hasán Nasralá, durante su discurso sobre la guerra, este viernes en Beirut. WAEL HAMZEH (EFE)

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