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An Israeli soldier takes part in ground operations, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. Picture: ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES
An Israeli soldier takes part in ground operations, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. Picture: ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES

Gaza/Jerusalem — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would consider “tactical little pauses” in fighting to facilitate the entry of aid or the exit of hostages from the Gaza Strip, but again rejected calls for a ceasefire despite international pressure.

Having encircled the densely populated Gaza City in the north of the enclave, where the Hamas Islamist group is based, Israel’s military said it had taken a militant compound and was set to attack fighters hiding in a warren of underground tunnels.

Since the Hamas raid on southern Israel on October 7, when its fighters killed 1,400 people and seized 240 hostages, Israel has bombarded the enclave in an assault that Gaza health officials say has killed more than 10,000 Palestinians, including 4,100 children.

Both Israel and Hamas have rebuffed mounting calls for a halt in fighting. Israel says hostages should be released first. Hamas says it will not free them nor stop fighting while Gaza is under assault.

Netanyahu said a general ceasefire would hamper his country’s war effort, but pausing fighting for humanitarian reasons, an idea supported by Israel’s top ally the US, would continue to be considered based on circumstances.

“As far as tactical little pauses — an hour here, an hour there — we’ve had them before. I suppose we’ll check the circumstances in order to enable goods, humanitarian goods to come in, or our hostages, individual hostages, to leave,” Netanyahu told ABC News on Monday. “But I don’t think there’s going to be a general ceasefire.”

US President Joe Biden discussed such pauses and possible hostage releases in a phone call with Netanyahu on Monday, reiterating his support for Israel while emphasising that it must protect civilians, the White House said.

Like Israel, Washington fears Hamas would take advantage of a full ceasefire to regroup.

Netanyahu said that when the conflict is over he thinks “Israel will for an indefinite period ... have the overall security responsibility (in Gaza) because we’ve seen what happens when we don’t have that security responsibility”.

International organisations have said hospitals cannot cope with the wounded and food and clean water are running out with aid deliveries nowhere near enough.

“We need an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. It has been 30 days. Enough is enough. This must stop now,” said a statement from the heads of several UN’s bodies on Monday, including UN high commissioner for human rights Volker Turk, World Health Organisation head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and UN aid chief Martin Griffiths.

The Israeli military on Monday released video of tanks moving through bombed-out streets and groups of troops moving on foot. It says it has surrounded Gaza City, cutting off northern parts of the narrow coastal strip from the south.

In a press briefing, chief military spokesperson Rear-Adm Daniel Hagari said troops were hunting Hamas field level commanders. “Eliminating the Hamas field command significantly undermines Hamas capabilities to carry out counterattacks,” Hagari said.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres warned on Monday that Gaza is becoming a “graveyard for children”, calling for an urgent ceasefire.

“Ground operations by the Israel Defence Forces and continued bombardment are hitting civilians, hospitals, refugee camps, mosques, churches and UN facilities — including shelters. No-one is safe,” Guterres told reporters.

“At the same time, Hamas and other militants use civilians as human shields and continue to launch rockets indiscriminately towards Israel,” he said.

The UN security council met behind closed doors on Monday. The 15-member body is still trying to agree a resolution after failing four times in two weeks to take action. Diplomats said a key obstacle is whether to call for a ceasefire, cessation of hostilities or humanitarian pauses to allow aid access in Gaza.

When asked if there were any talks at the UN yet about what might happen in Gaza once the fighting stops, deputy US ambassador to the UN Robert Wood told reporters on Monday: “Obviously there is concern about what happens the day after, but we’re not at that point.”

President Joe Biden’s administration has informed the US Congress that it is planning a $320m transfer of precision bombs for Israel, a source familiar with the plan said on Monday.

Israel said on Monday it was striking Hezbollah targets in Lebanon in response to a barrage of rockets fired at northern Israeli cities. The Israeli military said it detected about 30 launches from Lebanon in an hour.

The Iran-backed Hezbollah has been exchanging fire with Israeli forces across the Lebanese-Israeli frontier since the Hamas-Israel war began on October 7, in the worst fighting there since Hezbollah and Israel fought a war in 2006.

Hamas said it had launched 16 missiles towards Nahariyya and southern Haifa in Israel.

Reuters

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