(Reuters) - The United States on Friday expressed growing concern about the rising Palestinian death toll in the Gaza Strip where health officials said the number killed in a five-week-old Israeli bombardment had topped 11,000.
Fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas militants escalated near and around Gaza City's besieged and overcrowded hospitals, which Palestinian officials said were hit by explosions and gunfire.
In his strongest comments to date on the plight of civilians caught in the Gaza cross-fire, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on a visit to India: "Far too many Palestinians have been killed; far too many have suffered these past weeks."
Blinken welcomed daily four-hour humanitarian Israeli pauses that the White House announced on Thursday but said more action was needed to protect Gaza's civilians.
Israel has faced growing calls for restraint in its month-long war with Hamas but says the Islamist militants, who attacked Israel on Oct. 7 and took hostages, would exploit a truce to regroup.
"Israel is now launching a war on Gaza City hospitals," said Mohammad Abu Selmeyah, director of Al Shifa hospital.
He said later that at least 25 people were killed in Israeli strikes on Al-Buraq school in Gaza City, where people whose homes had been destroyed were sheltering.
Gaza officials said missiles landed in the courtyard of Al Shifa, the enclave's biggest hospital, in the early hours, damaged the Indonesian Hospital and reportedly set fire to the Nasser Rantissi paediatric cancer hospital.
Israel's military said later that a misfired projectile launched by Palestinian militants in Gaza had hit Shifa.
The hospitals are in northern Gaza, where Israel says the Hamas militants who attacked it last month are concentrated, and are full of displaced people as well as patients and doctors.
Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy said the Hamas headquarters was in Shifa hospital's basement, which meant the hospital could lose its protected status and become a legitimate target.
Israel says Hamas hides weapons in tunnels under hospitals, charges Hamas denies.
Israeli tanks, which have been advancing through northern Gaza for almost two weeks, have taken up positions around the Nasser Rantissi hospital as well as the Al-Quds hospital, medical staff said earlier, raising the alarm.
Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra said Israel had bombed Shifa hospital buildings five times.
"One Palestinian was killed and several were wounded in the early morning attack," he said by phone. Videos verified by Reuters showed scenes of panic and people covered in blood.