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U.N. warns of ‘disaster’ in Gaza as Israel strikes back at Hamas

As Israeli troops moved toward the border with the Gaza Strip before a possible ground invasion to dismantle Hamas, a United Nations official on Thursday warned of a humanitarian “disaster” in the blockaded territory, where six days of Israeli bombardment have left more than 300,000 people homeless and there was no immediate sign that emergency relief would be allowed in.

Israel was pummeling the 140-square-mile Gaza Strip with airstrikes of a magnitude and intensity not seen in its past assaults, even as Hamas is believed to be holding about 150 hostages there. The Gazan Health Ministry said 1,417 Palestinians had been killed and 6,268 others injured since Saturday.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Hamas’ “reign of terror” as he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel, to show U.S. support after the attacks by Hamas in southern Israel left more than 1,200 people dead, the deadliest assault on the country in more than half a century.

In Washington, a Treasury Department official told Democrats in Congress that Iran’s access would be blocked to $6 billion that the Biden administration, as part of a deal that freed five Americans last month who had been imprisoned in Tehran, had sent to Qatar to be released to Iran for humanitarian purposes. Iran has publicly endorsed the Hamas attacks but denied involvement, and U.S. officials have said there was reason to doubt Iran was directly involved in planning the attack.

At a news conference in Tel Aviv, Blinken said he had met with family members of Americans taken hostage, and invoked the horrors of the Holocaust as he addressed the attacks. But he also suggested the need for restraint in strikes on Gaza, calling for “every possible precaution to prevent harming civilians.”

Here is the latest:

— The brutality of the Hamas attack was coming into clearer view in the dozens of towns and a military base targeted: civilians, including children, shot dead in homes, in cars, on streets and in hiding places.

— Israel’s military said Thursday that its troops were preparing “for the next stage of the war,” signaling that a ground invasion of Gaza could be coming.

— Israel has cut off water and electricity supplies to Gaza, where the health system “has begun to collapse,” the Health Ministry there said. Staff members at one hospital are scrambling to treat the wounded, who are crammed into corridors that are also filled with people who fled their homes amid Israeli airstrikes. Nearly 340,000 people in Gaza have been displaced by the conflict, according to the U.N.

— The number of Americans confirmed to have died in the Hamas attacks rose to 27, according to the White House. The Biden administration said the United States would begin providing charter flights out of Israel on Friday for Americans who had been unable to leave. Blinken was scheduled to travel on to Jordan and then to Qatar, where the government has close ties to Hamas and often acts as an intermediary in hostage situations.

— While Israelis have largely shown solidarity since the Hamas massacre, Netanhayu’s government has begun to face a backlash in some quarters from people angered by the security failure. Herzi Halevi, the Israeli military chief of staff, acknowledged that the army had not fulfilled its responsibilities and said, “We will learn, we will investigate, but now is the time for war.”

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