America’s top diplomat, Antony Blinken, has told the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas that the Palestinian Authority should play a central role in what comes next in the Gaza Strip, according a senior state separtment official.
The comments came as Israeli jets struck a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, killing at least 38 people and wounding dozens, officials from Gaza’s Hamas-controlled health ministry said.
Israel has not confirmed that it hit al-Maghazi camp, and a military spokesperson said they were looking into whether forces were operating in the area at the time of the bombing.
As Washington, the international community and Israel have struggled to articulate what would happen on the “day after” – should Israel succeed in topping Hamas – the comments, made to Reuters on Sunday, were the clearest indication yet of US thinking.
A spokesperson for Abbas said after the meeting that the Palestinian president had called for an immediate ceasefire and the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza.
The state department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Blinken reaffirmed the US commitment to the delivery of life-saving humanitarian assistance and resumption of essential services in Gaza and made clear that Palestinians must not be forcibly displaced.
Blinken and Abbas discussed efforts to restore calm and stability in the West Bank, including the need to stop extremist violence against Palestinians and hold those accountable responsible, Miller said, in reference to violence being committed by Israeli settlers.
Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have had no role in governing Gaza since 2007, when Hamas took control of the coastal strip, after the Hamas backed Change and Reform party won the biggest share of the vote in legislative elections in 2006.
Last month, the Palestinian prime minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, in an interview with the Guardian, rejected the Palestinian Authority’s return to govern Gaza without a comprehensive agreement that includes the West Bank in a Palestinian state.
Evacuations of civilians and heavily wounded Palestinians from Gaza have been suspended since Saturday, according to Egyptian security and medical sources, after an Israeli strike on ambulances near the entrance to Gaza City’s main Dar al-Shifa hospital. Israel later claimed Hamas was using an ambulance to move its fighters.
Underscoring the nature of a conflict that has come to be dominated by attempts by Israel and Hamas to promote their own diverging narratives, the Israel Defence Forces accompanied a handpicked group of foreign and Israeli reporters into Gaza for a few hours over the weekend to produce reports under Israeli military restrictions.
In the last major conflict in Gaza in 2014, international media outlets were able to operate inside the coastal strip, entering from Israel. In the current conflict, reporters have been denied access either from Israel or via Egypt, while a number of Palestinian journalists operating inside Gaza have been killed during Israeli attacks.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has said more media workers have been killed in the Israel-Hamas war than in any other conflict in the area since it started monitoring in 1992.
As of Friday, 36 media workers – 31 Palestinians, four Israelis and one Lebanese – had been killed since Hamas attacked Israel on 7 October, according to the group.
The soaring death toll in Gaza has sparked growing international anger, with crowds of tens of thousands of people taking to the streets in cities from Washington to Berlin on Saturday to demand an immediate ceasefire.
On Sunday, the French foreign minister, Catherine Colonna, said in Doha that too many civilians had died in Israeli strikes on Gaza. Colonna said during a joint press conference with Qatar’s prime minister and foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, that schools, hospitals, humanitarian workers and journalists must be protected.
Israel has rejected the idea of halting its offensive, even for brief humanitarian pauses proposed by Blinken during his tour of the region. Instead, it said Hamas was “encountering the full force” of its troops.
“Anyone in Gaza City is risking their life,” said Israel’s defence minister, Yoav Gallant.
At the Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza overnight, the scene of the latest strike, journalists saw first responders and residents digging through the rubble, hoping to find survivors.
An Associated Press reporter at a nearby hospital saw the bodies of at least five children, including an infant, who had been pulled from the rubble.
Arafat Abu Mashaia, who lives in the camp, said the Israeli airstrike flattened several multistorey homes where people forced out of other parts of Gaza had been sheltering.
“It was a true massacre,” he said early on Sunday while standing amid the wreckage of destroyed homes. “All here are peaceful people. I challenge anyone who says there were resistance [fighters] here.”
Blinken previously met Arab foreign ministers in Jordan and met the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who insisted there could be no temporary ceasefire until all hostages held by Hamas were released.
After meeting Blinken on Saturday, Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, said Arab countries wanted an immediate ceasefire, saying: “The whole region is sinking in a sea of hatred that will define generations to come.”
Blinken, however, said: “It is our view now that a ceasefire would simply leave Hamas in place, able to regroup and repeat what it did on October 7.”
He said humanitarian pauses could be critical in protecting civilians, getting aid in and getting foreign nationals out “while still enabling Israel to achieve its objective, the defeat of Hamas”.
Netanyahu on Sunday disciplined a junior member of his cabinet who had voiced openness to the idea of Israel carrying out a nuclear strike on Gaza.