Biden presses Netanyahu for ‘tactical pause’ in Israel-Hamas war

Joe Biden on Monday pressed Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to “tactical pauses” in Israel’s war with Hamas as Israeli forces encircled Gaza’s main city and carried out an intense bombardment of the besieged strip.

The US president told Israel’s prime minister in a phone call that Washington was going to “continue to advocate for temporary localised pauses in the fighting”, White House spokesperson John Kirby said.

“This remains something we are actively discussing with our Israeli counterparts and we consider ourselves at the beginning of this conversation, not at the end of it,” Kirby added.

The two leaders spoke as Palestinian health officials said the death toll in Gaza had exceeded 10,000, and as international pressure mounts on Israel to agree to a humanitarian ceasefire.

UN secretary-general António Guterres told reporters Gaza was “becoming a graveyard for children” as he reiterated his calls for an immediate ceasefire.

“We must act now to find a way out of this brutal, awful, agonising dead end of destruction,” Guterres said.

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Netanyahu has repeatedly ruled out a ceasefire, and the Israeli military is preparing to step up its operations in the coastal enclave after encircling Gaza City, the strip’s capital and Hamas’s base, over the weekend.

He has said any pause in Israel’s bombardment of the enclave would be contingent on the Palestinian militant group releasing the more than 240 hostages it seized during its deadly attack on the Jewish state last month.

Biden has pushed Israel to agree to a pause in its bombardment to enable more aid to reach Gaza and to improve the chances of the hostages being released.

But his administration does not support a full ceasefire, which US officials say will only give Hamas time to regroup.

More than 1,400 people were killed when Hamas fighters breached the security barriers around Gaza and rampaged through towns and military posts in southern Israel on October 7, according to Israeli officials.

In the weeks since, Israel has launched an air, sea and land offensive on Gaza and laid siege to the strip, which is controlled by Hamas and is home to 2.3mn people.

Israel has allowed only a trickle of aid into Gaza through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, the only entry and exit point into the strip that does not border Israel.

Local officials on Monday said the Rafah crossing would reopen for the evacuation of some Egyptians and other foreign passport holders after a two-day closure following an Israeli strike on an ambulance convoy in the enclave.

The Red Cross said it had escorted four ambulances taking patients from Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City to the crossing.

More than 6,000 foreign nationals were present in Gaza before the first departures last week, according to diplomats, and more than 1,100 left via the crossing on November 2 and 3, according to OCHA, the UN humanitarian arm.

However, no departures of either foreign nationals or wounded Palestinians took place over the weekend.

OCHA said that was “reportedly due to the failure of Hamas, Israel and Egypt to reach an agreement regarding the safe evacuation of patients from northern Gaza”.

People familiar with the situation said that following the Israeli strike on the ambulance convoy, Hamas had insisted that wounded Palestinians be at the top of the list of those allowed to leave and that disagreements over this were causing the delay.

One person said the Palestinian group had tried to get its own militants out with the evacuees.

Israel said the ambulance convoy, which was travelling from Gaza City to Rafah, was “being used by a Hamas operative”, and claimed several Hamas militants were killed in its strike.

Video from the scenes showed civilian casualties, including women and children.

The planned reopening of Rafah comes as concerns grow about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

South Africa on Monday became the latest in a series of countries, including Jordan, Turkey, Chile and Colombia, to withdraw its ambassador from Israel in protest over the bombardment of enclave.

During a visit to Ankara, US secretary of state Antony Blinken said he had discussed the humanitarian situation in Gaza with his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan, and that Washington shared the “deep concern here” over the toll the war was taking on civilians.

“We’ve engaged the Israelis on steps that they can take to minimise civilian casualties,” Blinken said. “We’re working, as I said, very aggressively on getting more humanitarian assistance into Gaza.”

Fidan called on Blinken to lobby Israel to declare an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, adding that “Israel should be prevented from targeting civilians and displacing people in Gaza”, according to a Turkish diplomatic source.

Blinken also said the US was working to prevent the Israel-Hamas war from becoming a broader conflict.

Tensions continued to flare beyond Gaza on Monday, with Israel hitting targets in Lebanon after militants fired about 30 rockets across the border, according to the Israeli military.

The Pentagon said the number of attacks on US troops in Iraq and Syria rose significantly over the weekend.