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RAFAH, Palestinian Territories: Israeli forces pounded Rafah in southern Gaza with tanks and artillery on Saturday, hours after US President Joe Biden said Israel was offering a new plan for a full ceasefire.

Shortly after Bidno’s announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that his country would continue the war until it achieved all of its goals, including the destruction of Hamas.

On Saturday, Netanyahu insisted on destroying Hamas as part of the Israeli plan presented by US President Joe Biden to end the war in Gaza.

“Israel’s conditions for ending the war have not changed: the destruction of Hamas’ military and governance capabilities, the release of all hostages, and ensuring that Gaza no longer poses a threat to Israel,” the Israeli leader said in a statement.

“Under the proposal, Israel will continue to insist that these conditions are met before a permanent ceasefire is established.

“The idea that Israel will agree to a permanent ceasefire before these conditions are met is undesirable,” Netanyahu added.

Israel’s opposition leader called on Netanyahu on Saturday to heed US President Joe Biden’s call for a Gaza ceasefire that would see Hamas free the hostages and offer support to the government if its far-right coalition partners flee.

“The Israeli government cannot ignore the resulting speech by President Biden. There is a deal on the table and it needs to be done,” Yair Lapid said in an X post.

“I remind Netanyahu that he has our safety net for an agreement to release the hostages if (Itamar) Ben-Gvir and (Bezalel) Smotrich leave the government.”

The Palestinian militant group, meanwhile, said it “positively assesses” the plan presented by Biden.

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

They would also see “the release of many hostages, including women, the elderly and the wounded, in exchange for (the release of) hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.”

Israel and the Palestinians would then negotiate a permanent ceasefire during those six weeks — but the truce would continue while talks are ongoing, Biden said.

The US leader called on Hamas to accept Israel’s offer. “It’s time for this war to end, for the next day to begin,” he said in comments echoed by British Foreign Secretary David Cameron.

In a statement Friday night, Hamas said it “positively assesses” Biden’s speech regarding “a permanent ceasefire, withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, reconstruction and prisoner exchange.”

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

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

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the Israeli offer “provides a glimmer of hope and a possible way out of the war impasse”, while EU High Representative Ursula von der Leyen welcomed a “balanced and realistic” approach to end the bloodshed.

But Netanyahu disputed Biden’s presentation of what was on the table, insisting that the transition from one stage to another in the proposed timeline was “conditional” and designed to allow Israel to maintain its war aims.

“The prime minister authorized the negotiating team to present a draft to achieve (the return of the hostages), while at the same time insisting that the war will not end until all its goals are achieved,” Netanyahu’s office said.

Those goals included “the return of all our hostages and the elimination of Hamas’ military and governmental capabilities,” he added.

“The precise outline proposed by Israel, including the conditional transition from stage to stage, allows Israel to maintain these principles.”

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

Israel sent tanks and troops to Rafah in early May, ignoring concerns for the safety of displaced Palestinian civilians who have taken refuge in the town on the Egyptian border.

Before the Rafah offensive began, the United Nations said up to 1.4 million people had taken refuge in the city.

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

Israel’s seizure of the Rafah crossing has further slowed intermittent aid deliveries to Gaza’s 2.4 million people and effectively closed the territory’s main exit point.

Israel announced last week that they had accelerated the delivery of aid.

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

The World Food Program said daily life in parts of southern Gaza had become “apocalyptic” since Israel launched an assault on the Rafah in early May.

The war in Gaza was triggered by Hamas’ unprecedented attack on southern Israel on October 7, which killed 1,189 people, mostly civilians, AFP reported, based on Israeli official figures.

The extremists also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom are still in Gaza, including 37 the military says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive in Gaza has killed at least 36,284 people, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

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

The Israeli army said the troops “completed their mission in eastern Jabalia and began preparations to resume operations in the Gaza Strip.”

with Reuters

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