Israel attacks Gaza after Biden outlines ceasefire plan

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Israeli forces pounded Rafah in southern Gaza with tanks and artillery on June 1, hours after US President Joe Biden said Israel is offering a new roadmap to a full ceasefire.

Shortly after Mr. Biden’s announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that his country would continue the war until it achieved all its objectives.

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He reiterated that position, saying that “Israel’s conditions for ending the war have not changed: the destruction of Hamas’s military and administrative capabilities, the release of all hostages and ensuring that Gaza no longer poses a threat to Israel.”

Hamas, meanwhile, said it “views positively” toward Mr. Biden’s Israeli plan.

In his first major speech outlining a possible end to the nearly eight-month war, the US president said Israel’s three-phase offer would begin with a six-week phase in which Israeli forces would withdraw from all populated areas of Gaza.

There would also be talk of the “release of a number of hostages… in exchange for (the) release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.”

Israel and the Palestinians would then negotiate a lasting ceasefire — but the truce would continue as long as the talks are ongoing, Mr. Biden said.

The US leader urged Hamas to accept the Israeli offer.

“It is time for this war to end and the next day to begin,” he said.

Netanyahu offered ‘safety net’

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called his counterparts from Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey on Friday to pressure the deal.

UN chief Antonio Guterres “strongly hopes” that the latest development “will lead to an agreement between the parties for lasting peace,” his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

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German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the offer “offers a glimpse of hope and a possible way out of the impasse of the war”, while EU chief Ursula von der Leyen welcomed a “balanced and realistic” approach to a to put an end to the bloodshed.

Saudi Arabia stressed its “support for all efforts aimed at an immediate ceasefire” and the withdrawal of Israeli forces.

Indonesia, meanwhile, said it was prepared to send “significant peacekeeping forces” and medical personnel to Gaza if a ceasefire is agreed.

But Mr Netanyahu disagreed with Mr Biden’s presentation of what was on the table, insisting on Friday that the transition from one phase to the next was “conditional” and intended to allow Israel to achieve its war objectives to enforce.

“The Prime Minister has authorized the negotiating team to present an outline for achieving (the return of hostages), while insisting that the war will not end until all its goals are achieved,” Mr.’s office said Netanyahu.

“The exact outline that Israel proposes, including the conditional transition from phase to phase, allows Israel to uphold these principles.”

Israel has repeatedly vowed to destroy Hamas since the Palestinian militant group attacked southern Israel on October 7.

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid said the government “cannot ignore Biden’s important speech” and must accept the proposed deal, pledging to support Netanyahu if his far-right coalition partners abandon it.

“I remind Netanyahu that he has our safety net in case of a hostage situation,” Lapid said on social media platform X on Saturday.

Intensive shelling

Israel sent tanks and troops to Rafah in early May, ignoring concerns about the safety of displaced Palestinian civilians sheltering in the city on the Egyptian border.

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On Saturday, residents reported tank fires in the Tal al-Sultan neighborhood in western Rafah, while witnesses described intense shelling in eastern and central Rafah.

“From the early hours of the night until this morning, the air and artillery bombardments have not stopped at any time,” a resident of western Rafah told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“There are a number of (Israeli) snipers in high-rise buildings monitoring all parts of Tal al-Sultan… which makes the situation very dangerous,” the resident added.

There was also shelling and gunfire from the Israeli army in Gaza City, in the north of the territory, an AFP reporter said.

Before the Rafah offensive began, the United Nations said 1.4 million people were sheltering in the city.

Since then, a million people have fled the area, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said.

Israel’s seizure of the Rafah crossing has further delayed sporadic aid deliveries to Gaza’s 2.4 million residents and effectively closed the territory’s main exit.

‘All is ashes’

Israel said last week that aid deliveries had been stepped up.

But Mr Blinken acknowledged on Friday that the humanitarian situation was “dire”, despite US efforts to provide more aid.

Egypt’s state affiliate Al-Qahera News said Cairo will host a meeting with Israeli and US officials on Sunday to discuss the reopening of the Rafah crossing.

The World Food Program said daily life in parts of southern Gaza has become “apocalyptic.”

The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’ unprecedented attack on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count based on official Israeli figures.

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Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 who the army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive in Gaza has killed at least 36,379 people, mostly civilians, according to Israel’s Health Ministry.

In northern Gaza, witnesses said that troops, after carrying out a three-week operation in the town of Jabalia and the adjacent refugee camp, ordered residents of nearby Beit Hanun to evacuate in anticipation of an imminent attack.

The Israeli military said troops “completed their mission in East Jabalia and began preparations for continued operations in the Gaza Strip.”

Jabalia shopkeeper Belal al-Kahlot said there was nothing left of his store after the Israeli operation.

“Everything is ashes,” he said.

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