Israeli army bombs an ambulance near Al-Shifa hospital: Israel bombs an ambulance despite US pressure to protect civilians in Gaza and the West Bank | International

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While the Secretary of State of the United States, Antony Blinken, this Friday asked the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to do “more to protect civilians” in Gaza and the West Bank, images of bodies and injuries from bombings followed one another in the Strip in a few hours: two at the doors of hospitals; in one of the cases against an ambulance that, according to the Israeli army, was being used by “a Hamas terrorist cell.” In the television images you can see 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. Hours earlier, in a long-awaited speech, the leader of the Hezbollah party-militia, Hasan Nasrallah, removed the risk of an imminent regional escalation. He limited himself to warning that his involvement in the war – potentially extensive, but at the moment moderate – will depend on how Israel acts in Gaza and on the Lebanese border itself.

“We had informed the Red Cross, in accordance with international law, that we were going to move a convoy with wounded people in ambulances from Al Shifa hospital,” said the spokesman for the Ministry of Health of the Hamas government, Ashraf al Qudra, who He assures that there were two bombings: one at the doors of the hospital and another, in a square located one kilometer away, in Gaza City, the capital surrounded by Israeli troops.

In a statement, the Israeli army assures that "several Hamas terrorist operatives died in the bombing" and emphasizes that it is a "combat zone" that civilians must evacuate. Some 20,000 Palestinians are taking refuge from the attacks in Al Shifa, whose evacuation the Israeli forces insist on because they assure that it houses the Hamas command center underground.

Shortly after, the Al Jazeera network showed another bombing in front of the Indonesian Hospital, in the Yabalia refugee camp. According to its director, Atef al Kahlut, around 50 people have died, 40% of them children.

“There are no safe places”

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Both centers are in the northern area, which Israel bombs incessantly and where it pressures civilians (including those in hospitals, who have received several warnings) to concentrate in the southern half, in order to advance freely in their mission to “destroy Hamas.” The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) has “lost contact with many of the shelters” in that area, its director in the Strip, Thomas White, said this Friday. “These are people seeking refuge under the flag of the United Nations, protection in accordance with international humanitarian law. […]. Let's be clear: there are no safe places in Gaza right now,” he added.

Friday was a day of contrast between images of corpses and diplomatic handshakes. Less than 100 kilometers from Gaza, the United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, reiterated in Tel Aviv his support for Israel (“not only does it have the right, but the obligation to defend itself,” he said), although with hundreds of dead a day, called on Israel to “do more to protect Palestinian civilians” in its offensive and “everything possible” to allow the entry of humanitarian aid through Egypt, which is limited to dozens of trucks a day, without fuel .

On his third visit to the area, the head of US diplomacy also had words for the West Bank, where ultranationalist settlers have expelled hundreds of Palestinians from their homes and the death toll is unprecedented in two decades. There too, he said, civilians must be “protected” and “extreme violence against Palestinians stopped.”

The central theme of the trip was “humanitarian pauses.” They have been requested again by Blinken and, “urgently”, by the high foreign representative of the EU, Josep Borrell, in a conversation with the Israeli Foreign Minister, Eli Cohen. Its format is negotiated linked to the release of the more than 200 hostages in Gaza and while Israeli troops advance in the enclave, these days at greater speed. On the one hand, it is a strategy to pressure Hamas to exchange the hostages. On the other hand, Israel is aware that the passing of the weeks and the accumulation of bodies left by its offensive will erode the approval it received from the West after the 1,400 deaths from the Hamas attack on the 7th.

Injured after the Israeli attack on an ambulance next to the Al Shifa hospital in Gaza, this Friday. Mohammed Al-Masri (REUTERS)

This Friday, for now, Netanyahu has been clear: "We continue with all our forces and Israel refuses a temporary truce that does not include the release of our hostages." That is, no hostages for thousands of Palestinian prisoners, as Hamas requests, but kidnapped in exchange for a pause in the attacks and the relaxation of the complete blockade (no fuel, and dozens of trucks with water, food and medicine just for the south) that it maintains over the Strip, according to leaks to local media.

Hezbollah's “constructive ambiguity”

A third image marked the day. After almost a month of silence and war in Gaza, Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese party-militia Hezbollah, has given his most anticipated speech. Many eyes were focused on what message the most powerful armed group would convey on an Israeli border, where the army was on “very high” alert. They already fought a war in 2006 that ended in a draw.

Aware of the expectation, Nasrallah did not address only the thousands of followers who listened to him on screens waving the movement's yellow flags. He has spoken with the rest of the world in mind and “with constructive ambiguity”, as he has said when emphasizing that “all scenarios are on the table” on the Lebanese front. “I repeat, all the options are there and at any time we can choose any one,” he insisted.

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 fifty militiamen. Although unprecedented since the 2006 war, these attacks are far from Hezbollah's potential, causing more concern and military mobilization in Israel than deaths on the border.

Nasrallah has not ignored it and has addressed both those who see his involvement as timid and those who fear an escalation that could lead to open regional war. He has told the former that their current role "may seem small", but it is the "most significant", in terms of "tools, strategies, weapons and even objectives", and forces Israel to divert many troops to the border. north. But, above all, he has clarified, it is not definitive. “I assure you: this will not be the end, it will not be enough,” he pointed out with a boxing simile: “Victory will come on points, not by KO.”

To the latter - those who fear that Hezbollah would drag a Lebanon in economic and institutional ruin into a war against the most powerful army in the Middle East - he told them that if they had limited themselves to "issuing statements of condemnation", Israel "would be attacking Gaza with all its strength.” “Some will say we are playing with fire, but it makes sense [lo que hacemos]”, he clarified.

Between the triumphalist rhetoric and many phrases about the fragility that Israel showed in the Hamas attack, which he defined as a “security, military, political, diplomatic and even psychological earthquake,” Nasrallah sent a fairly clear message: Hezbollah will more or less enter at play based on two elements. One, “the development of events in Gaza,” where “the enemy has to calculate his movements” because it can give the Lebanese militia “more strength and perseverance.” Another, the border they share, where each death of a civilian in Lebanon has threatened to take its toll on Israel in the same measure.

Demonstration in support of Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah.
Followers of Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah during his speech on the war, this Friday in Beirut. POOR HAMZEH (EFE)

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