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UN visits Gaza hospital as Israelis demand safe return of hostages

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

We start this hour with the latest from the Israel-Gaza conflict, now in its 44th day. A United Nations team toured Gaza's largest hospital and described it as a death zone after weeks when it could not replenish its critical supplies. In Israel, large demonstrations took place in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Family members and friends of those taken hostage by Hamas demanded that the Israeli government do more to win their release. NPR's Peter Kenyon is following developments from Jerusalem. Thanks for joining us.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So, Peter, let's start with that U.N. visit to Gaza's largest hospital. What did they find?

KENYON: Well, it was the U.N.'s World Health Organization. And they say Israeli forces evacuated a number of people from Al-Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza, but nearly 300 remained inside, including dozens of babies said to be in critical condition and other patients who were unable to be safely moved. In a statement, the U.N. agency said that staff and patients were, quote, "terrified for their safety and health" and were pleading for evacuation. Now, where these people will go isn't fully clear - possibly to southern Gaza, but hospitals there are also overwhelmed with patients and civilians seeking shelter.

RASCOE: And what about these huge rallies urging action on hostages held by Hamas?

KENYON: Well, I was over by the prime minister's office here in Jerusalem yesterday when thousands of marchers arrived on the final leg of their dayslong journey from Tel Aviv. The organizers of the march said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu couldn't avoid hearing them now, and there was another large rally in Tel Aviv as well. Netanyahu did get the message. He held a news conference later in the day in which he told reporters to ignore media reports of an agreement to release some women and children in exchange for a pause in fighting. But he did seem to confirm that talks are going on. Here's a bit of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Speaking Hebrew).

KENYON: Now, he's saying, "We are prohibited from discussing the details of our demands. We want them all back, be it in one or two rounds. We want to bring whole families together." Now, he didn't give any details. He also referred to Hamas as a cruel and cynical enemy. Israel's national security adviser laid out Israel's conditions - the main ones being that any pause be short and include, quote, "a massive release of hostages."

RASCOE: And how much humanitarian aid is getting through to Gaza now?

KENYON: Well, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said humanitarian aid didn't cross from Egypt Saturday, but the U.N. refugee agency was allowed to import fuel - enough for another couple of days and to keep communications up and running. There was a contentious vote among Netanyahu's war cabinet. It did approve a proposal to allow two truckloads of fuel to enter Gaza each day. But far-right members of the war cabinet, led by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, were very critical of the proposal, saying the focus should be on intensifying the attacks on Hamas targets in order to extract more concessions from Hamas leaders. Now, this fuel proposal was backed by the U.S. and others, and the fuel is intended to keep things like the sewage system in Gaza up and running to reduce the spread of disease.

RASCOE: And what about the fighting that's going on? Where is that taking place right now?

KENYON: Well, in Gaza, fighting focused in part on the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern part of the strip, with the Israeli military saying it killed Hamas fighters and located weapons and military equipment there. And we got another reminder that this is not limited to Gaza. The Israeli military says dozens of mortar shells were fired into Israel from across the border with Lebanon early today, and the Israeli Air Force responded with strikes that the military says destroyed Hezbollah targets in Lebanon. The military also says it intercepted what it called an aerial target fired into northern Israel.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Jerusalem. Thank you for joining us.

KENYON: Thanks, Ayesha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.