Biden says Israel willing to pause war over Ramadan if hostage deal reached

Palestinian Abdul Rahman Sharif holds the body of his four-year-old son Abdul Rahman Muamm, killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, Feb. 26, 2024.
Palestinian Abdul Rahman Sharif holds the body of his four-year-old son Abdul Rahman Muamm, killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, Feb. 26, 2024. Copyright Associated Press
Copyright Associated Press
By Euronews with AP
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All the latest from the Israel-Hamas War.

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US President Joe Biden says Israel would be willing to halt its war with Hamas in Gaza during the upcoming Muslim fasting month of Ramadan if a deal is reached to release some of the hostages held by the militants.

Ramadan is due to start around 10 March.

Negotiators from the US, Egypt and Qatar are working on a framework deal under which Hamas would free some of the dozens of hostages it holds, in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners and a six-week halt in fighting. 

During the temporary pause, negotiations would continue over the release of the remaining hostages.

Biden’s comments in an interview taped Monday for NBC’s “Late Night With Seth Meyers” were the most detailed yet about a possible halt in fighting during the holy month, a time of heightened religious observance and dawn-to-dusk fasting.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said earlier that the army had presented to the War Cabinet its operational plan for a ground offensive into Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost town along the border with Egypt, where 1.4 million Palestinians have sought safety.

The situation in Rafah, where dense tent camps have sprouted to house the displaced, has sparked global concern and Israel’s allies have warned that it must protect civilians in its battle against Hamas.

Israeli troops shoot and kill three Palestinians in West Bank

Israeli troops shot and killed three Palestinian men early Tuesday in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian health authorities said.

The military wing of the militant group Islamic Jihad claimed the three as members. One of those killed, identified as Mohammed Daraghmeh, 26, was a co-founder of the local branch of Islamic Jihad in the northern town of Tubas, the group said.

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said the men, who ranged in age from 26 to 32, were shot in the head, chest and neck.

Palestinian media reported that they were killed in Faraa refugee camp near Tubas.

The West Bank has seen a surge of violence since the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza broke out 7 October. More than 400 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire there during that time, most in confrontations sparked by near-daily military raids in search of suspected militants.

Biden hopes ceasefire and hostage deal can take effect by next Monday

President Joe Biden said Monday that he hopes a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that would pause hostilities and allow for the remaining hostages to be released can take effect by early next week.

Asked when he hoped such a deal could be finalised, Biden said: “Well I hope by the beginning of the weekend. The end of the weekend. My national security adviser tells me that they’re close. They’re close. They’re not done yet. My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said Sunday that an Israeli military offensive in the southernmost city of Rafah could be “delayed somewhat” if a deal for a weekslong cease-fire between Israel and Hamas is reached. He claims that total victory in Gaza is “weeks away” once the offensive begins.

Talks toward a deal have resumed at the specialist level in Qatar, which is one of the mediators.

Israel says it found a 10-kilometre tunnel connecting Gaza City to Central Gaza

The Israeli military says it uncovered a 10-kilometre long tunnel connecting parts of central Gaza to Gaza City in the north.

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The military said the tunnel network ran near the Turkish Hospital in central Gaza and Israa University in Gaza City. It released photos and video footage it said was taken inside the tunnels showing long corridors, staircases, beds, weapons and other supplies.

The military destroyed a number of buildings at the Israa University campus in January, claiming that the facility had been used for military purposes by Hamas.

Hamas has acknowledged building hundreds of kilometers of tunnels across Gaza. One of the main objectives of the Israeli offensive has been to destroy that network, which it says is used by Hamas to move fighters, weapons and supplies throughout the territory.

Israel accuses Hamas of using civilians as human shields and has exposed many tunnels running near mosques, schools, hospitals and UN facilities. Some of the hostages who were held captive in Gaza have said they were kept in tunnels.

Israel has found similar tunnels across Gaza over the course of its nearly five-month military campaign.

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Israeli court hears arguments in case of ultra-orthodox men serving in army

Israel’s Supreme Court has heard arguments in cases that would force ultra-Orthodox men to serve in the army, as the military is strained by the nearly five-month war in Gaza.

Hundreds of people protested outside the court in Jerusalem on Monday, waving flags and chanting for equal service, as the court began to hear arguments that would cancel the exemption for ultra-Orthodox men.

Military service is compulsory for Jewish men, but politically powerful ultra-Orthodox parties have won exemptions for their communities to allow men to study full-time in religious seminaries. These exemptions have prompted widespread anger and resentment from the secular majority, especially as the army has recently announced that compulsory service may be extended and reserve duty will be more frequent as the war continues in Gaza and tensions on the northern border escalate.

The government is required to submit a new draft law in the coming months. Ultra-Orthodox parties, which are a key coalition partner of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hope to continue the system of exemptions.

Opponents, including key members of a mass protest movement against Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul, say the exemptions are unfair and must end.

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Activist groups filed petitions last year to force the state to strike down the exemptions and subsidies for young ultra-Orthodox men who study full-time in religious institutions called yeshivas. In the past, attempts to overhaul the draft law to include ultra-Orthodox have drawn tens of thousands of community members to the streets in large, violent protests.

90 people reported killed across Gaza in last 24 hours

The bodies of 90 people killed in Israel’s bombardment have been brought to hospitals in the war-wrecked Gaza Strip in the past 24 hours, local authorities reported Monday.

Hospitals had also received 164 wounded, they said.

The war began after Hamas-led militants stormed across southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 250 others hostage.

The fresh fatalities brought the death toll in Gaza to 29,782 since the Israel-Hamas war began on 7 October, the ministry said in its daily briefing. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants, but said two thirds of the dead are children and women.

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Another 70,043 had been wounded since 7 October, it said.

The ministry said many casualties remain under the rubble and first responders have been unable to retrieve them amid the relentless bombing.

The war began after Hamas-led militants rampaged across southern Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking roughly 250 people hostage.

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