Israel pounds Gaza after Biden outlines ceasefire plan - GulfToday

Israel pounds Gaza after Biden outlines ceasefire plan


Smoke billows during Israeli strikes in eastern Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. AFP

Israeli forces hammered Rafah in southern Gaza with tanks and artillery Saturday, hours after US President Joe Biden said Israel was offering a new roadmap towards a full ceasefire.

Shortly after Biden's announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted his country would pursue the war until it had achieved all its aims.

He reiterated that position on Saturday, saying that "Israel's conditions for ending the war have not changed: the destruction of Hamas's military and governing capabilities, the freeing of all hostages and ensuring that Gaza no longer poses a threat to Israel".

Hamas, meanwhile, said it "views positively" the Israeli plan laid out by Biden.

In his first major address outlining a possible end to the nearly eight-month war, the US president said Israel's three-stage offer would begin with a six-week phase that would see Israeli forces withdraw from all populated areas of Gaza.

It would also see the "release of a number of hostages" in exchange for "hundreds of Palestinian prisoners" held in Israeli jails.

US President Joe Biden speaks during a press conference. File photo

Israel and the Palestinians would then negotiate for a lasting ceasefire, with the truce to continue so long as talks are ongoing, Biden said.

The US leader urged Hamas to accept the Israeli offer.

"It's time for this war to end, for the day after to begin," he said.

Intense shelling

Israel sent tanks and troops into Rafah in early May, ignoring concerns over the safety of displaced Palestinian civilians sheltering in the city on the Egyptian border.

On Saturday, residents reported tank fire in the Tal al-Sultan neighbourhood in west Rafah, while witnesses in the east and centre described intense shelling.

"From the early hours of the night until this morning, the aerial and artillery bombardment has not stopped for a single moment," a resident from west Rafah told AFP on condition of anonymity.

There was also shelling and gunfire from the Israeli army in Gaza City, in the north of the territory, an AFP reporter said.

There was also shelling and gunfire from the Israeli army in Gaza City, in the north of the territory.

Before the Rafah offensive began, the United Nations said up to 1.4 million people were sheltering in the city.

Since then, one million have fled the area, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, has said.

The Israeli seizure of the Rafah crossing has further slowed sporadic deliveries of aid for Gaza's 2.4 million people and effectively shuttered the territory's main exit point.

New evacuation order

Israel said last week that aid deliveries had been stepped up.

But Blinken acknowledged on Friday that the humanitarian situation was "dire" despite US efforts to bring in more assistance.

Egyptian state-linked Al-Qahera News said Cairo will host a meeting with Israeli and US officials on Sunday to discuss the reopening of the Rafah crossing.

Israeli troops had ordered residents of nearby Beit Hanun to evacuate ahead of an imminent assault.

The World Food Programme said daily life had become "apocalyptic" in parts of southern Gaza.

The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack, which resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The Palestinian group Hamas also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,379 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

In northern Gaza, witnesses said that after carrying out a three-week operation in the town of Jabalia, troops had ordered residents of nearby Beit Hanun to evacuate ahead of an imminent assault.

The Israeli army said troops "completed their mission in eastern Jabalia and began preparation for continued operations in the Gaza Strip".

Suad Abu Salah, 47, one of scores of displaced Palestinians who have returned to the ravaged north in recent days, told the media that "Jabalia has been wiped off the map."

Back in Jabalia after the Israeli offensive, she said: "We need a solution and an end to this war, so that we can live in peace."

Agence France-Presse

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