Battles rage in Rafah as Biden blames Hamas for truce delayBreaking

June 14, 2024

 Israeli helicopters struck Rafah , residents said, with militants reporting street battles in the southern Gazan city as US President Joe Biden called Hamas the "biggest hang-up" to another truce. Tensions were also soaring on Israel's northern border, with more attacks by Hamas ally Hezbollah targeting military positions and a civilian reported killed in an Israeli strike in Lebanon. Israeli ground forces have operated in Rafah since early May, despite widespread alarm over the fate of Palestinian civilians there and an International Court of Justice ruling later that month. Western areas of Rafah came under heavy fire on Thursday, residents said. "There was very intense fire from warplanes, Apaches (helicopters) and quadcopters, in addition to Israeli artillery and military battleships, all of which were striking the area west of Rafah," one told media.

Hamas said its fighters were battling Israeli troops on the streets of the city near the besieged Gaza Strip's border with Egypt. In Italy at a G7 summit, Biden called Hamas "the biggest hang-up so far" to a deal on a Gaza truce and hostage release. "I've laid out an approach that has been endorsed by the UN Security Council, by the G7, by the Israelis, and the biggest hang-up so far is Hamas refusing to sign on even though they have submitted something similar," he told reporters. "Whether or not that comes to fruition remains to be seen," he said.

Efforts to reach a truce stalled when Israel began ground operations in Rafah, but Biden in late May launched a new effort to secure a deal. On Monday, the UN Security Council adopted a US-drafted resolution supporting the plan, and on Thursday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said G7 leaders "call on Hamas in particular to give the necessary consent".

Some Gazans have also called on Hamas to do more to secure an agreement. "What are you waiting for? The war must end at any cost," said a man called Abu Shaker. Biden's roadmap for the first truce since a week-long pause in November includes a six-week ceasefire, a hostage-prisoner exchange and Gaza reconstruction. Hamas responded to mediators Qatar and Egypt late Tuesday. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was in the region this week, has said some of its proposed amendments "are workable and some are not".

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan said the group sought "a permanent ceasefire and complete withdrawal" of Israeli troops from Gaza, demands repeatedly rejected by Israel. Blinken has said Israel is behind the plan, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose far-right government allies strongly oppose the deal, has not publicly endorsed it. In Jerusalem, a student-led protest near Israel's parliament urged the government to secure a hostage release deal. "Ceasefire now," said one banner as demonstrators marched with portraits of some of the hostages.

Credit: Independent News Pakistan (INP)