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Israeli PM says no halt to fighting in Gaza until Hamas returns hostages

Israel struck an ambulance near a Gaza hospital on Friday in an attack the military said targeted militants, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected calls by Washington's top diplomat for a halt to fighting unless hostages held by Hamas are freed.

White House wants humanitarian pauses; top U.S. diplomat urges Israel to permit aid to enter Gaza

An ambulance in Gaza City, reportedly damaged in an Israeli strike, is seen on Friday.

Israel struck an ambulance near a Gaza hospital on Friday in an attack the military said targeted militants, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected calls by Washington's top diplomat for a halt to fighting unless hostages held by Hamas are freed.

Warning Israel and the U.S. of a potential regional war, the leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah said fighting on the Israel-Lebanon frontier could escalate further and hinted his Iran-backed group was ready to confront U.S. warships in the region.

Israel has vowed to wipe out Hamas, which rules the Palestinian Gaza Strip, after the militant group killed 1,400 people — including Canadian citizens — and took more than 240 others hostage in an Oct. 7 assault in southern Israel.

The Israeli military has struck Gaza from the air, imposed a siege and launched a ground assault, stirring global alarm at humanitarian conditions in the enclave. Food is scarce, medical services are collapsing and officials in Gaza's Hamas-run Health Ministry say more than 9,250 Palestinians have been killed.

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Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesperson for the Health Ministry in Gaza, said 15 people were killed and 60 wounded when Israel struck an ambulance that was part of a convoy at Gaza's biggest hospital, Al-Shifa.

Israel's military said it had identified and hit an ambulance "being used by a Hamas terrorist cell" in the battle zone, and that a number of Hamas fighters were killed.

"We emphasize that this area is a battle zone. Civilians in the area are repeatedly called upon to evacuate southwards for their own safety," the military said.

WATCH | The aftermath of an Israeli strike on an ambulance:

Ambulance in Gaza hit by Israeli airstrike

9 hours ago

Duration 0:29

Featured VideoWARNING: This video contains distressing images. Video obtained by Reuters shows the aftermath of an Israeli strike on an ambulance near Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza. A Health Ministry spokesperson said 15 people were killed and 60 wounded. Israel's military said it had identified and hit an ambulance 'being used by a Hamas terrorist cell' and that a number of Hamas fighters were killed.

Hamas official Izzat El Reshiq said allegations its fighters were present were "baseless." The Israeli military gave no evidence to support its assertion that the ambulance was linked to Hamas but said in a statement it intended to release additional information.

Reuters was unable to independently verify accounts from either side.

In an evening briefing, Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said that so far in the war Israel had killed 10 Hamas commanders responsible for planning the Oct. 7 attack.

"We killed and eliminated them and will continue to eliminate those who lead the combat against our troops, wherever they may be," Hagari said.

Israel said 25 Israeli soldiers have been killed in fighting in Gaza since the military's ground operation was expanded a week ago.

Blinken calls for pause

Aid agencies warn a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in the bloodiest episode in decades in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

An overhead shot displays destroyed buildings and concrete debris on the ground.

Over half of Gaza's 2.3 million population is now sheltering in UN Palestinian refugee agency facilities, with inadequate water and food, four UN agencies said in a joint statement.

On a visit to the region, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday and called for a humanitarian pause in fighting that he said would facilitate work to release hostages while enabling Israel to defeat Hamas.

In a televised address, Netanyahu rejected the idea of a pause unless hostages are freed.

Several people, men and women, hold up signs and appear to be chanting.

"I made clear that we are continuing full force and that Israel refuses a temporary ceasefire which does not include the release of our hostages."

Blinken on Saturday will meet with the Saudi, Qatari, Emirati and Egyptian foreign ministers as well as Palestinian representatives in Amman, the Jordanian foreign ministry said.

The Arab leaders will stress the "Arab stance calling for an immediate ceasefire, delivering humanitarian aid and ways of ending the dangerous deterioration that threatens the security of the region," the ministry said in a statement.

WATCH | Aid groups face 'heartbreaking and overwhelming' situation:

What aid workers are up against in Gaza

5 hours ago

Duration 4:00

Featured VideoDespite immense dangers, aid workers in Gaza have been working around the clock for weeks, trying to help as many people as possible — often leaving their own families behind. Palestine Red Crescent Society's spokesperson Nebal Farsakh tells The National’s Ian Hanomansing what it's been like for her team on the ground.

Washington has maintained robust military and political support for Israel, while calling on its ally to take steps to avoid civilian deaths and address Gaza's humanitarian crisis.

The U.S. State Department said earlier this week that while in Jordan, Blinken would "underscore the importance of protecting civilian lives and our shared commitment to facilitating the increased, sustained delivery of life-saving humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza."

Jordan is a staunch U.S. ally and shares a border with the West Bank and Israel. Concerned about potential for a wider conflict, Amman has boosted border security and asked Washington to deploy Patriot air defence systems.

Hezbollah leader speaks

While Blinken was in Israel, the leader of Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah group warned the United States that if Israel did not stop its assault on Gaza then the conflict could widen into a regional war.

A group of Israeli military vehicles travel down a highway in Sderot, Israel.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, in his first speech since the Israel-Hamas conflict erupted on Oct. 7, also threatened the U.S., hinting his Iran-backed paramilitary group was ready to confront American warships in the Mediterranean.

A heavily armed ally of Gaza's Hamas militants, Hezbollah has been engaging Israeli forces on the Lebanon-Israel border in the biggest flare-up since it fought a war with Israel in 2006.

"You, the Americans, can stop the aggression against Gaza because it is your aggression," Nasrallah said in a speech.

"Whoever wants to prevent a regional war, and I am talking to the Americans, must quickly halt the aggression on Gaza."

He added that Hezbollah, the spearhead of a Tehran-backed regional alliance hostile to Israel and the United States, did not fear the U.S. naval firepower Washington has assembled in the region since the crisis erupted.

Other Iran-aligned groups have entered the fray since Oct. 7, with Tehran-backed groups firing on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, and Yemen's Houthis launching drones at Israel.

In Washington, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said it was aware of Nasrallah's speech but would not engage in "a war of words."

A man in a t-shirt and jean is shown in a throwing motion on an urban street. Nearby, a dumpster is on fire.

Hezbollah and other state and non-state actors should not try to take advantage of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the spokesperson said.

"With regard to Lebanon, with regard to Hezbollah, with regard to Iran — we have been very clear from the outset that we are determined that there not be a second or third front opened in this conflict," Blinken said on Friday when asked if the U.S. would be willing to turn its regional firepower on targets in Lebanon and Iran.

More than 300 foreign passport holders and dependents entered Egypt from Gaza on Friday through the Rafah crossing, along with a small group of medical evacuees, according to Egyptian and Palestinian officials.

France said 34 of its nationals were among those who left. The White House said 100 U.S. citizens and family members left Gaza on Thursday and said another large group of Americans was expected to leave on Friday.

The Canadian government has received assurances there will be windows to evacuate Canadian nationals from Gaza through the Rafah border crossing on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, a government source told Radio-Canada.

'Alarming' conditions in West Bank: UN

Meanwhile, the United Nations human rights office on Friday described "alarming" conditions in the occupied West Bank, saying Israeli forces were increasingly using military tactics and weapons in law enforcement operations there.

"While much attention has been on the [Hamas] attacks inside Israel and the escalation of hostilities in Gaza since the 7th of October, the situation in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is alarming and urgent," said Liz Throssell, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

She said at least 132 Palestinians, including 41 children, have been killed in the West Bank, 124 of them by Israeli forces and eight by Israeli settlers, since violence there intensified in the wake of Hamas's assault on Israel.

Two Israeli soldiers were also killed.

The Israeli military has reported a sharp increase in operations against militants in the West Bank since Oct. 7 attack, making 1,260 arrests, of whom it said about 760 were affiliated with Hamas.

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