Biden and Netanyahu speak as pressure grows on Israel over Rafah

Mourners pray over the bodies of Palestinians who were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Nuseirat, at the Al Aqsa hospital in  Gaza Strip, Saturday, April 27, 2024
Mourners pray over the bodies of Palestinians who were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Nuseirat, at the Al Aqsa hospital in Gaza Strip, Saturday, April 27, 2024 Copyright Associated Press
Copyright Associated Press
By Euronews with AP
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International pressure is building on Israel over its plans to invade Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah and a ceasefire agreement.


The White House on Sunday said US President Joe Biden had again spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as pressure builds on Israel and Hamas to reach a deal that would free some Israeli hostages and bring a ceasefire in the nearly seven-month-long war in Gaza.

The White House said that Biden reiterated his “clear position” as Israel plans to invade Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah despite global concern for more than 1 million Palestinians sheltering there. The US opposes the invasion on humanitarian grounds, straining relations between the allies. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is returning to the Middle East on Monday.

Biden also stressed that progress in delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza be “sustained and enhanced,” according to the statement. It was less stark than their previous call this month in which Biden warned that future US support for Israel in the war depends on swift implementation of new steps to protect civilians and aid workers. There was no comment from Netanyahu's office on the latest call.

A senior official from key intermediary Qatar, meanwhile, urged Israel and Hamas to show “more commitment and more seriousness" in negotiations. Qatar, which hosts Hamas' headquarters in Doha, was instrumental along with the US and Egypt in helping negotiate a brief halt to the fighting in November that led to the release of dozens of hostages. But in a sign of frustration, Qatar this month said that it was reassessing its role.

The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, speaking at a World Economic Forum session in Riyadh on Sunday, said the only solution to the Israel-Hamas conflict was for the land to be shared. "Here in Gaza and in Palestine [...] is a war for the land two people who are fighting for the same land. And the only solution is to share this land," he said.

An Israeli delegation is expected in Egypt in the coming days to discuss the latest proposals in negotiations, and senior Hamas official Basem Naim said in a message to The Associated Press that a delegation from the militant group will also head to Cairo. Egypt’s state-owned Al Qahera News satellite television channel said that the delegation would arrive on Monday.

The comments by Qatar’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Majed al-Ansari in interviews with the liberal daily Haaretz and Israeli public broadcaster Kan were published and aired Saturday evening.

Al-Ansari expressed disappointment with Hamas and Israel, saying each side has made decisions based on political interests and not with civilians' welfare in mind. He didn't reveal details on the talks other than to say they have “effectively stopped,” with “both sides entrenched in their positions.”

Al-Ansari’s remarks came after an Egyptian delegation discussed with Israeli officials a “new vision” for a prolonged cease-fire in Gaza, according to an Egyptian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to freely discuss developments.

The Egyptian official said that Israeli officials are open to discussing establishing a permanent cease-fire in Gaza as part of the second phase of a deal. Israel has refused to end the war until it defeats Hamas.

The second phase would start after the release of civilian and sick hostages, and would include negotiating the release of soldiers, the official added. Senior Palestinian prisoners would be released and a reconstruction process launched.

Negotiations earlier this month centered on a six-week cease-fire proposal and the release of 40 civilian and sick hostages held by Hamas in exchange for freeing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

A letter written by Biden and 17 other world leaders urged Hamas to release their citizens immediately. In recent days, Hamas has released new videos of three hostages, an apparent push for Israel to make concessions.

The growing pressure for Hamas and Israel to reach a cease-fire deal is also meant to avert an Israeli attack on Rafah, the city on the border with Egypt where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population is seeking shelter. Israel has massed dozens of tanks and armored vehicles. The planned incursion has raised global alarm.

“Only a small strike is all it takes to force everyone to leave Palestine," Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asserted to the opening session of the World Economic Forum in Saudi Arabia, adding that he believed an invasion would happen within days.

But White House national security spokesman John Kirby told ABC that Israel "assured us they won’t go into Rafah until we’ve had a chance to really share our perspectives and concerns with them. So, we’ll see where that goes.”

The Israeli troop buildup may also be a pressure tactic on Hamas in talks. Israel sees Rafah as Hamas’ last major stronghold. It vows to destroy the group's military and governing capabilities.

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