Gaza health officials reported the highest daily death toll so far this year on Monday as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken toured Arab states before heading for Israel to try to prevent the conflict growing into a wider conflagration.

Blinken, who has backed Israel while expressing growing concern over civilian casualties, was holding talks on Gaza in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia on Monday to try to chart a way forward.

He began a five-day Middle East diplomatic effort in Jordan and Qatar on Sunday, his fourth visit to the region since deadly Oct. 7 attacks on Israel by Hamas militants in Gaza sparked a massive Israeli assault that shows no signs of ending.

Other Iranian-backed militant groups have weighed in, attacking Israeli forces on the border with Lebanon and U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria as well as ships in the Red Sea, which Blinken said would push up prices of food and fuel.

Israel, which says it is fighting for its very survival, outlined a more focused approach to the war ahead of the visit but Palestinian health officials in the Hamas-run enclave said 247 people had been killed overnight, the highest toll this year.

Israeli forces bombarded the east of the southern city of Khan Younis and central Gaza Strip amid clashes in those areas, residents said. They said a strike in Deir Al-Balah had killed 18 people overnight and four on Monday.

Family friend Jihad Baraka helped carry the shrouded bodies of Sami Bilal Abu Issa, 11, and Muhammed Bilal Abu Issa, 9, out of Gaza’s European Hospital into a waiting ambulance.

The boys suffered serious injuries when their home was hit as they slept and the local Shuhada al-Aqsa Hospital was unable to treat them, Baraka said.

“The situation is dangerous at al-Aqsa hospital. There is nothing left to treat the people with, no doctors are left, everyone evacuated,” he said.

Israel accuses Hamas of operating among civilians and has released videos and photos it says support the claim. Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, denies the accusation.

The Israeli offensive in Gaza has so far killed 23,084 Palestinians, local health officials say, while Israel says Hamas still holds more than 100 hostages of 240 seized during its Oct. 7 attack on Israeli towns that killed 1,200 people.

The military said it had bombed an arms cache and uncovered a tunnel shaft in central Gaza and killed at least 10 fighters in Khan Younis. It dropped leaflets on al Moghani in central Gaza warning residents to evacuate several districts it said were “dangerous combat zones”. The military wing of Hamas said a sniper had killed an Israeli soldier in central Gaza.

Nearly all of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have fled their homes at least once and many are now moving again, often sheltering in makeshift tents or huddled under tarpaulins.

For Aziza Abbas, 57, one of a handful of Gazans now camped close to the southern border with Egypt, there was nowhere else to go after what she said was bombardment around a school in which she had taken shelter after leaving her home in the north.

“They may kill us here, it doesn’t matter to them,” she told Reuters, saying she did not want to leave Gaza for Egypt, which has closed the border fearing an exodus. In neaby Rafah, medics recovered the bodies of three people killed in an Israeli air strike on a car that locals said had been carrying food.

“Blinken … will never change anything,” displaced Palestinian Mohammed Al-Qassas said at the scene.

The U.N.’s Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA reported 63 direct hits on its installations and Ashraf Al-Qidra, the spokesman for the Health Ministry in Gaza, said 1.9 million people in shelters faced famine, drought, and epidemics.


In a sign of international concern, European Union’s top diplomat Josep Borrell joined Blinken in Saudi Arabia.

Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock visited Israel, urging it to protect Palestinians in the occupied the West Bank where Israeli forces have killed hundreds in a crackdown. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas demanded an end to “Israeli aggression” as he met his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo.

“G7 countries are working with the Israeli government to find a rapid way out of the military phase,” the Italian Foreign Ministry quoted minister Antonio Tajani as saying as Italy began its one-year presidency of the Group of Seven.

Blinken said he would tell Israeli officials they must do more to prevent civilian casualties in Gaza and allow Palestinian civilians to return home after right-wing members of Israel’s ruling coalition called for Gazans to move elsewhere.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told the Wall Street Journal his country was both determined to end Hamas rule of the enclave and deter other Iran-backed adversaries.

Six sources told Reuters Israel was carrying out an unprecedented wave of deadly strikes in Syria against parts of Iran’s weapons lifeline to its proxies in the region.

An Israeli strike on south Lebanon killed a senior commander in Hezbollah’s elite Radwan force, three security sources told Reuters. Israel said it hoped Blinken would be able to stop daily Hezbollah attacks that had displaced 80,000 Israelis.