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GAZA: Efforts to pressure Israel to spare civilians in Gaza were set to continue on Monday after Israel rebuffed calls for a ceasefire amid a US diplomatic blitz to the region to help contain escalation of the conflict.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to meet with Turkey’s foreign minister in Ankara on Monday, hours after hundreds of people at a pro-Palestinian protesters tried to storm an air base that houses US troops in southern Turkey.

Blinken on Sunday made an unannounced visit to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who joined international calls for an immediate ceasefire.

But after Blinken repeated US concerns that a ceasefire could aid Hamas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ruled that out unless hostages held by Hamas were released. “There will be no ceasefire without the return of the hostages. This should be completely removed from the lexicon,” Netanyahu said.

Palestinian news agency WAFA had reported “unprecedented bombardment” from Israel on Sunday, while telecoms provider Paltel reported another cutoff of communications and internet services.

A spokesman for Israel’s military told CNN late on Sunday that bombardments in northern Gaza were halted for several hours two days in a row to allow for safe passage for civilians to move to the south of the narrow coastal strip.

“Not only are we telling them where to go, but we’re also helping and creating much better humanitarian conditions in the south,” Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said, without indicating whether such pauses would continue. Conricus said there was access to water and humanitarian goods in the south of Gaza, but Hamas was impeding convoys by firing on them.

Reuters could not immediately verify his account. US CIA Director William Burns was also set to visit Israel on Monday to discuss the war and intelligence with senior officials, the New York Times reported. Burns also will make stops in other Middle East countries to discuss the Gaza situation, the Times quoted unnamed US official as saying.

The CIA did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday and “reiterated his ironclad commitment to Israel’s right to defend itself and emphasized the importance of both protecting civilians and delivering humanitarian assistance,” the Pentagon said.

Austin “reaffirmed the US commitment to deter any state or non-state actor seeking to escalate this conflict.” US Vice President Kamala Harris will call foreign leaders later on Monday to discuss the conflict and advance the administration’s efforts to increase the flow of humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza, her office said.


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