A Palestinian woman mourns after an Israeli airstrike at the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday.

A Palestinian woman mourns after an Israeli airstrike at the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday. / AFP via Getty Images

Updated October 17, 2023 at 12:27 PM ET

Mediators are pressing for an agreement that will allow aid to enter the Gaza Strip and refugees with foreign passports out of the enclave. The efforts come as the World Health Organization is warning that Gaza faces an "imminent" public health crisis.

As Palestinians struggle to find safe passage, health care and clean, reliable water, a spokesman for Hamas, Ghazi Hamad, remained unrepentant for his group's attack on Israel.

Israel says it will not stop its attacks until it has destroyed Hamas.

"Every Hamas member is a dead man," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week.

More than 1,400 Israelis have been killed, the vast majority of that number during the unprecedented Hamas attack on Oct. 7 that included the taking of almost 200 hostages. Since then, Israel has killed more than 2,800 people in the Gaza Strip, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, which added that another 9,700 in Gaza have been wounded.

Hamas wants the world's attention, spokesman says

The group's surprise attack targeted a music festival, where militants killed more than 200 people and sent young people fleeing into bomb shelters.

"This is a fake story. This is a fake story. Hundred percent," Hamad said.

Multiple eyewitnesses and video recordings have confirmed the attack on the festival. Some attendees are also among those being held hostage.

Hamad spoke to NPR's Steve Inskeep for Morning Edition from inside Gaza. He didn't disclose a specific location.

Of that attack, which started this latest conflict, Hamad said: "We want to get the attention of the world. We are under oppression and torture and collective punishment all the time. That's our message for the world."

The Israeli military says Hamas is "responsible for the humanitarian consequences" of the violence and chaos that followed last weekend's attack.

As for the hostages taken by Hamas, Hamad claimed they were providing the nearly 200 people with shelter and protection.

Those hostages include some military personnel, children and one Holocaust survivor, Israeli military spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said early Tuesday morning during a briefing on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Hamad said Hamas would not release hostages: "But it is a war. No. Our priority now is to stop aggression and death on Gaza."

Hamad said he is more concerned with Palestinian civilians than with hostages.

Lack of water and electricity creates a crisis in Gaza

Gaza's 2.3 million residents are struggling as Israel shut off supplies of water, food and power to Gaza's main electricity grid days ago. Hospitals are struggling to care for thousands of injured people as fuel for generators is running out.

After meetings with Israeli officials, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the U.S. and Israel had agreed to develop a plan to get aid from "donor nations and multilateral organizations" to the besieged Gaza Strip

"It is critical that aid begins flowing into Gaza as soon as possible," Blinken said at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv early Tuesday. There are also discussions to possibly establish areas to help keep civilians safe, he said.

The fraught situation hinges on the border crossing at Rafah, where trucks bearing humanitarian aid are sitting in Egypt, just across at the territory's southern border.

The Rafah crossing is currently closed, and the process of reopening promises to be complicated. In theory, fuel, water and other aid would flow into Gaza while refugees and foreign nationals flow out. But Israel is worried Hamas would exploit the crossing; Egypt is wary of taking in hundreds of thousands of people — and Palestinians are worried they wouldn't be allowed back into Gaza if they leave.

In the wake of Israel's Oct. 13 order to evacuate the northern part of the Gaza Strip, the number of internally displaced people reached 1 million on Monday, the United Nations said. Conricus said Tuesday that about 500,000 Israelis have also been displaced in the south of Israel due to the hostilities.

But Hamad, the Hamas spokesperson, said the organization has asked "our people to stay here" in order to "stand against the Israeli evacuation."

He denied the frequently cited accusation by Israel that Hamas plans to use civilians as human shields.

Liyam, who gave only his first name, pays respect at the grave of his fellow commander, at Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem on Monday.

Liyam, who gave only his first name, pays respect at the grave of his fellow commander, at Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem on Monday. / AP

Biden to visit the region as strikes are exchanged across Israel's border

Israeli military forces are continuing to attack Hamas in the south of the country, focusing on the Gaza Strip, while fighting new attacks from Hezbollah along the northern border with Lebanon, Conricus said. On Tuesday, Israel's military said it killed four militants attempting to cross into the country from Lebanon.

Residents evacuated dozens of Israeli towns near the northern border in anticipation of full-blown fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants.

Overnight, Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Israel's military said Tuesday that it killed Osama Mazini, a Hamas official who Israel says was responsible for prisoners taken by Hamas and who directed terrorist strikes against Israel.

Gaza's Ministry of Health reported more dead and wounded from Israeli strikes. The latest reports say dozens were killed and dozens more wounded by strikes at Rafah and Khan Younis, an area in southern Gaza where Israel had told residents to travel in advance of an expected ground offensive in north of the enclave. The ministry also reported that people remain trapped under the rubble of homes and buildings hit by airstrikes.

Amid the growing fears of violence potentially expanding across the region, the White House announced President Biden will visit Tel Aviv and Amman, Jordan, on Wednesday. In Israel, Biden will make a very visible show of U.S. support for the country. In Amman, Biden will meet with Jordanian King Abdullah II, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

U.S. officials have said they believe at least a few Americans are being held hostage by Hamas, and Biden will seek an update on the hostage situation while he is in the region, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

NPR's Peter Kenyon contributed to this report.

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