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US President Biden says Israel offers roadmap to end Gaza war

US President Biden says Israel offers new roadmap to end Gaza war
4 min read
US President Joe Biden's intervention came as Israeli troops pushed into central Rafah, escalating the nearly eight-month war on Gaza.
US President Joe Biden 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 [Chip Somodevilla/Getty]

US President Joe Biden said it was time for the war in Gaza "to end" as he announced on Friday that Israel was offering a new roadmap towards a full ceasefire.

But swiftly afterwards Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu poured cold water on Biden's talk of a conclusion to the war, insisting that the army would continue fighting until it had "eliminated" Hamas's capacity to rule Gaza and pose a military threat.

"Hamas considers positively" the contents of Biden's speech regarding "a permanent ceasefire, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, reconstruction and the exchange of prisoners", the Palestinian group said in a statement.

The US president's intervention, which had been heavily trailed, came as Israeli troops pushed into central Rafah, escalating the nearly eight-month war on Gaza despite international objections to any assault on the city in the south of the strip.

It also came as top diplomat Antony Blinken acknowledged that despite US efforts to get more aid into Gaza, the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territory remained "dire".

In his first major address outlining how the Gaza war might end, Biden said that 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, including women, the elderly, the wounded, in exchange for [the] release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners".

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Israel and Hamas would negotiate during those six weeks for a lasting ceasefire – but if the talks took longer, the truce would remain in place as long as they continue, Biden said.

The US president urged Hamas to accept the Israeli offer.

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

British Foreign Minister David Cameron echoed his comments. "Let's seize this moment and bring this conflict to an end," he said.

Netanyahu took issue with Biden's presentation of what was on the table, however, insisting that the transition from one stage to the next in the proposed roadmap was "conditional" and crafted to allow Israel to maintain its war aims.

"The prime minister authorised the negotiating team to present an outline for achieving [the return of hostages], while insisting that the war will not end until all of its goals are achieved, including the return of all our hostages and the elimination of Hamas's military and governmental capabilities," Netanyahu's office said in a statement.

"The exact outline proposed by Israel, including the conditional transition from stage to stage, allows Israel to maintain these principles."

There was no immediate reaction from Hamas, which has been careful about commenting on ceasefire proposals put to it by Egyptian, Qatari, or US mediators after it accepted one earlier this year only for it to be disavowed by Israel.

AFP contacted a number of Hamas officials for comment on Biden's speech and all of them declined.

But earlier on Friday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh accused Israel of "using negotiations as a cover to continue its aggression", saying Hamas "refuses to be a part of these manoeuvres".

Israel's war on Gaza has so far killed at least 36,284 people, according to the Palestinian enclave's health ministry.

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.

The International Court of Justice last week ordered Israel to "immediately halt" its offensive in Rafah.

On Friday, the Israeli military said its troops in central Rafah had uncovered Hamas rocket launchers and tunnels and dismantled a weapons storage facility of the group.

A stream of civilians has flooded out of Rafah, taking their belongings on their shoulders, in cars or on donkey-drawn carts.

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.

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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.

Israel said at the weekend that aid deliveries had been stepped up.

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

The UN's World Food Programme said daily life had become "apocalyptic" in parts of southern Gaza since Israel began its assault on Rafah in early May.

Jordan announced it will host a summit on 11 June, jointly organised with Egypt and the United Nations, bringing together aid agency chiefs and heads of donor governments to discuss the humanitarian response.