Israel strikes Gaza as Biden urges truce in Eid message

AFP , Monday 17 Jun 2024

Israel struck Gaza on Monday and witnesses reported blasts in the besieged territory's south, but fighting has largely subsided after a day of relative calm and as Muslims marked Eid al-Adha.

Gaza
Palestinians inspect the damage of buildings destroyed by Israeli airstrikes on Jabaliya refugee camp on the outskirts of Gaza City. AP

 

In a holiday message late Sunday, US President Joe Biden called for the implementation of a ceasefire plan he outlined last month, saying it was "the best way to end the violence in Gaza" and to help civilians suffering "the horrors of the war between Hamas and Israel".

A daytime "pause" for aid deliveries announced at the weekend by Israel's military around a southern Gaza route appeared to be holding, while elsewhere in the Palestinian territory an AFP correspondent said strikes and shelling have decreased.

In Gaza City, medics at Al-Ahli hospital said at least five people were killed in two separate air strikes, and witnesses reported tank shelling in the southern neighbourhood of Zeitun.

At least one strike hit Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, residents said.

Palestinian officials in the far-southern city of Rafah reported tank shelling early on Monday, before the start of the daily "local, tactical pause of military activity" announced by the army.

It said the pause "for humanitarian purposes will take place from 8:00 am (0500 GMT) until 7:00 pm (1600 GMT) every day until further notice along the road that leads from the Kerem Shalom crossing to the Salah al-Din road and then northwards".

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP "there was no change" in the military's policy and stressed fighting "continues as planned".

An army spokesperson told AFP the pause was in effect on Monday, and the military in a statement said troops were still operating in Rafah and central Gaza, reporting "close-quarters combat" that killed several Palestinians.

Witnesses told AFP they could hear blasts in Rafah's city centre and west on Monday morning.

Humanitarian needs

A map released by the army showed the declared humanitarian route extending up to Rafah's European Hospital, about 10 kilometres (six miles) from Karam Abu Salem crossing.

Mahmud Basal, spokesman for the civil defence agency in the besieged strip, said that apart from the deadly Gaza City strikes overnight, "the other areas of the Gaza Strip are somewhat calm".

He reported military movements and gunfire in parts of Rafah as well as the Bureij camp in central Gaza.

On Sunday, the first day of Eid al-Adha, or the feast of the sacrifice, the spokesman said "calm has prevailed across all of Gaza".

The United Nations has welcomed the Israeli announcement of the pause, although "this has yet to translate into more aid reaching people in need", said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA.

He called for "further concrete measures by Israel to address longstanding issues" on humanitarian needs.

Gazans "urgently need food, water, sanitation, shelter, and health care, with many living near piles of solid waste, heightening health risks," Laerke said.

Dire shortages of food and other essentials in the Gaza Strip have been exacerbated by overland access restrictions and the closure of the key Rafah crossing with Egypt since Israeli forces seized its Palestinian side in early May.

The military said the pause was in effect as part of efforts to "increase the volumes of humanitarian aid" following discussions with the United Nations and other organisations.

It was announced a day after eight Israeli soldiers were killed in a blast near Rafah and three more troops died elsewhere, in one of the heaviest losses for the army in more than eight months of war on the strip.

'End the war'

Israel's offensive killed at least 37,337 people in Gaza, also mostly women and children.

Egyptian, Qatari and US mediators have been pushing for a new Gaza truce, so far without success.

Washington has been pressing Israel and Hamas to formally accept Biden's truce plan, which would allow an initial six-week pause to fighting.

"I strongly believe that the three-phase ceasefire proposal Israel has made to Hamas and that the UN Security Council has endorsed is the best way to end the violence in Gaza and ultimately end the war," the US president said.

The only previous truce lasted one week in November and saw many hostages released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, while increased aid flowed into Gaza.

Hamas has insisted on the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and a permanent ceasefire -- demands Israel has repeatedly rejected.

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