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Israel pauses fighting but rules out ceasefire

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Picture: Mahmud Hams / AFP / Taken on October 17, 2023 – Palestinian rescuers arrive at the scene after an Israeli strike in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 17, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. Palestinians have been fleeing north Gaza, walking towards the south this week, amid the conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in the central Gaza Strip

By AFP and ANI

Israel has agreed to pauses in its offensive in northern Gaza that will allow some civilians to flee heavy fighting, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ruled out any broader ceasefire as a “surrender” to Hamas.

US President Joe Biden welcomed the pauses, which formalise an arrangement that has already seen tens of thousands of Palestinians flee devastation in northern Gaza, but also said there was “no possibility” of a ceasefire.

As Israel implements four-hour pauses in areas of northern Gaza each day, the White House has said that these pauses are in the right direction as Israel is fighting an enemy that is embedded in its civilian population.

It, however, added that the country has an obligation to comply with international law to help civilians reach safer areas.

Asian News International (ANI) reported that at a press conference at the White House, an official read out a statement quoting John Kirby, the White House National Security Council co-ordinator for strategic communications, as saying that “there will now be two humanitarian corridors allowing people to flee the areas of hostilities in the northern part of Gaza”.

He said: “The first such corridor, open between four and five hours every day for the past few days, has already enabled many thousands of people to reach safer areas in the south, away from the main area of ground operations.

“The second route, along the coastal road, will enable many more thousands to reach safer areas in the south. Of course, we remain concerned that Hamas will discourage or prevent civilians from fleeing.”

Netanyahu said Israeli troops were performing “exceptionally well” in the offensive launched after Hamas fighters poured across the border on October 7.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel retaliated with an aerial bombing and ground offensive that the health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip says has killed more than 10 800 people, mostly civilians and many of them children.

Netanyahu said Israel did not “seek to govern Gaza”.

“We don’t seek to occupy it, but we seek to give it and us a better future,” he told Fox News.

Tens of thousands of civilians have streamed out of northern Gaza in recent days, with men, women and children clutching meagre possessions as they emerge from the devastated war zone. They have fled close-quarter fighting, with Hamas militants using rocket-propelled grenades against Israeli troops backed by armoured vehicles and heavy airstrikes.

The UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said 70,000 people had travelled south on the route since November 4, most of them walking.

Almost 1.6 million people had been internally displaced since October, it said, more than half the area’s population.

But the UN estimates hundreds of thousands of civilians remain in the fiercest battle zones in the north.

“A ceasefire with Hamas means surrender to Hamas, surrender to terror,” Netanyahu told Fox. “There won’t be a ceasefire without the release of Israeli hostages, that’s not going to happen.”

Aid groups have pleaded for a ceasefire, warning of a humanitarian “catastrophe” in Gaza, where food, water and medicine are in short supply.

Oxfam France director Cecile Duflot said staff were reporting “the worst, the most tragic situation that they have ever seen” in the territory.

Overnight, fierce clashes continued, and Hamas-run local authorities accused Israel of shelling the areas of several hospitals in northern Gaza.

The Al-Shifa hospital, where an estimated 60 000 people have taken refuge, along with the Rantisi children’s hospital and the Indonesian hospital all came under fire overnight, Hamas authorities said.

The bombardments caused injuries but no deaths, they said.

Israel has accused Hamas of using hospitals including Al-Shifa to hide its military operations.

Complicating Israel’s military push is the fate of around 240 hostages abducted on October 7.

CIA director Bill Burns and David Barnea, head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, were in Doha for talks on pauses that would include hostage releases and more aid for Gaza, an official said.

Four hostages have been freed so far, and the desperate relatives of those still held have piled pressure on Israeli and US authorities to secure the release of their loved ones.

Inside Gaza, the intense combat and effective blockade of the densely populated territory have led to increasingly dire conditions.

Donors at an aid conference in Paris have pledged about $1.1 billion (about R20.4bn), but access to Gaza remains very limited, with around 100 trucks a day able to enter, far below the pre-war average.

Israeli officials, however, insist there is “no humanitarian crisis” in Gaza.

The conflict has also stoked regional tensions, with cross-border exchanges between the Israeli army and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels saying they launched “ballistic missiles” at southern Israel.

Israel’s military said yesterday that it struck an organisation in Syria that was behind a drone crash into a school in southern Israel a day earlier.

“In response to a UAV (drone) from Syria that hit a school in Eilat, the IDF struck the organisation that carried out the attack,” the Israeli army said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

It did not identify the organisation behind the drone, but said it “holds the Syrian regime fully responsible for every terror activity emanating from its territory”.

The drone hit an elementary school, without causing injuries, though several people were treated for shock.

Meanwhile, Turkey has made necessary preparations to take injured Palestinians and patients with chronic illnesses from Gaza to its hospitals, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday.

He also said Turkey would make efforts to increase pressure on Israel to ensure injured Palestinians could be evacuated from Gaza. – AFP and ANI