Israeli troops fight in the heart of Gaza City amid global calls for pause

TEL AVIV — Israeli troops set on ousting Hamas pushed into the heart of Gaza City on Wednesday, triggering new concerns for the remaining civilians in the Palestinian enclave’s largest city as international calls mounted for more “humanitarian pauses.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken also categorically stated from Tokyo that the United States opposes any kind of reoccupation of Gaza or displacement of Palestinians out of the Strip.

Though it remained difficult to obtain a clear picture of where the Israeli forces were operating, fleeing residents said troops had reached the Ansar roundabout in central Gaza City, a block away from its main port. Footage of the Gaza City skyline posted by Hamdan Dahdouh, a cameraman with the Al Jazeera network, was filled with the sound of gunfire and whistling bullets. He said that “violent clashes” were taking place around the Ansar and al-Azhar neighborhoods in the middle of the city.

Civilians, some carrying white flags, streamed out of the city as Israeli authorities announced a four-hour pause in fighting along Salah al-Din Road, the main north-south route. They carried back packs and shopping bags filled with the few belongings they could carry.

Fadi al-Rubai, 25, who spoke to The Washington Post by phone, described fleeing from al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City with his family of nine on foot as fighting drew closer. They passed a large number of tanks and Israeli soldiers along the route.

“There was great destruction around us,” he said.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant had declared a day earlier that ground forces were “tightening the noose” on the city. “We are making progress, and our forces from the north and the south are advancing to the heart of Gaza City and are fighting within urban spaces,” he said in a speech marking one month since the start of the war.

A month into devastating Gaza war, Israel’s endgame is no clearer

The Israeli advance into Gaza’s most populous city has heightened concerns for civilians. While Israel has repeatedly warned residents to leave, a lack of safe passage, distrust, fear and airstrikes even in areas deemed to be safe zones have meant many have stayed. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, more than 10,000 people have been killed in the airstrikes and ground attacks that followed Hamas’s attack on southern Israel a month ago, during which as many as 1,400 people were killed and around 240 abducted.

Pressure on Israel mounted Wednesday as top diplomats from the Group of Seven leading industrial democracies announced a unified stance on the Israel-Hamas war after intensive meetings in Tokyo. They condemned Hamas, supported Israel’s right to self-defense and called for “humanitarian pauses” to speed aid to desperate civilians in the Gaza Strip.

The joint statement from the United States, Germany, Britain, Japan, France, Canada and Italy underscored “the importance of protecting civilians and compliance with international law.”

In his speech Tuesday evening, Gallant said that there would be “no humanitarian pause without the return of the hostages.” He acknowledged pressure on Israel for a pause but said it was determined to press on.

“It is impossible to stop this fighting until we achieve our goals,” he said. “This war was pushed on us, and we have no way to go back. There’s no stopping. We can only go forward to victory over Hamas and bringing the hostages back.”

However, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has resisted the pressure to take a break from his country’s effort to hit Hamas, he has signaled increasing openness to “tactical” pauses, which U.S. officials view as positive movement.

The office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, which oversees the Israeli government’s civilian policy in Gaza and the West Bank, said there was a humanitarian pause between the Gaza City neighborhoods of Daraj and Tofah for four hours on Wednesday. The office urged civilians to move south on Salah al-Din Road.

U.S. top diplomat lays out fullest vision yet for Gaza’s future

Rubai, the civilian who fled down that route with his family on Wednesday, had already been displaced once from his home in the Shati refugee camp, on the coast in Gaza City. Israeli troops have been closing in on the camp from the north, unleashing devastating strikes on the area as they do so, including from naval boats.

The family had driven to the beginning of Salah al-Din Road before leaving their car to walk. About half a mile along, he said, he saw a “large number of tanks on both sides of the road” and Israeli soldiers, who asked them to raise their hands and hold up their identity documents.

Several people were stripped and searched and thrown to the ground, he said, adding that the soldiers fired warning shots to intimidate people.

Ahmad Masri, who spoke to a Washington Post photographer as he fled along the road with other civilians, said he had come from the Shati refugee camp and saw Israeli troops along their route. “We saw them; they were close,” he said, adding that dead bodies also lay on the road. “Nobody stopped us or checked our IDs,” he said.

U.N. monitors estimate that up to 15,000 people may have passed along the route on Tuesday, three times the figure estimated on the day before. The majority, including children, elderly people and people with disabilities, arrived on foot with minimal belongings, it said.

Osama al-Aish, a photojournalist, shared footage with The Post of residents fleeing through the neighborhood of Rimal in central Gaza City. Two women carried babies in their arms, and other small children followed on foot as one man described how Israeli troops had reached the Ansar roundabout behind them.

Israeli troops had stationed a sniper on top of a tower near that intersection, and there were reports that passersby had been shot at, said Omar Abu Nada, a journalist based at al-Shifa Hospital.

Harb reported from London, Birnbaum from Tokyo, Balousha from Cairo. Sarah Dadouch in Beirut and Melanie Lidman in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.

Israel-Gaza war

Israeli forces advanced deeper into the territory, closing in on Gaza City — a move that U.S. officials said would probably lead to increased casualties. As the war passes a month of fighting, Israel’s endgame for Gaza is no clearer. Understand what’s behind the Israel-Gaza war.

Hostages: Israeli officials say Hamas militants abducted about 240 hostages in a highly organized attack. Four hostages have been released — two Americans and two Israelis — as families hold on to hope. One released Israeli hostage recounted the “spiderweb” of Gaza tunnels she was held in.

Humanitarian aid: The Palestine Red Crescent Society said it has received over 300 trucks with food, medicine and water to the Gaza Strip through Egypt’s Rafah crossing. However, the PRCS said, there hasn’t been permission yet to bring in fuel, which powers the enclave’s hospitals, water pumps, taxis and more.

Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip has a complicated history, and its rulers have long been at odds with the Palestinian Authority, the U.S.-backed government in the West Bank. Here is a timeline of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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