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Blinken starts mideast tour to press for Gaza truce

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday for another Middle East crisis tour, hoping to secure a new truce in the Israel-Hamas war as Gaza saw no let-up in fighting.

On his fifth trip to the region since Hamas’s October 7 attack that triggered the war, Blinken landed in Riyadh and was later expected to visit Israel, Egypt and Qatar.

Ahead of the trip he stressed the need for “urgently addressing humanitarian needs in Gaza”, after aid groups have repeatedly sounded the alarm over the devastating impact nearly four months of war have had on the besieged territory.

“The situation is indescribable,” said Said Hamouda, a Palestinian who fled his home in the Gaza Strip to the southern city of Rafah on the border with Egypt.

Dubbed a “pressure cooker of despair” by the United Nations, Rafah now hosts more than half of Gaza’s population, displaced due to Israel’s assault.

Over the weekend, Israel pressed further south towards the densely-crowded border city, warning that its ground forces could advance on Rafah as part of the campaign to eradicate Hamas.

On Monday morning, sources told AFP they could hear artillery shelling in the areas of eastern Rafah and Khan Yunis, where Israel believes high-ranking Hamas officials are hiding.

At least 128 people, mostly women and children, were killed in Israeli strikes overnight to Monday, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.

The Hamas government media office said Israeli bombardment had continued across the centre and south of the coastal Strip, including near hospitals.

The Israeli military said troops operating in the northern and central Gaza Strip had “killed dozens of terrorists,” and were engaging with Hamas militants in the Khan Yunis area.

Hamas’s armed wing said its militants attacked Israeli troops southwest of Gaza City.

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