Gaza ceasefire possible 'tomorrow' if Hamas frees hostages, says Joe Biden

12 May 2024, 07:51 | Updated: 12 May 2024, 11:36

Israel has ordered more residents to leave Rafah
Israel has ordered more residents to leave Rafah. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

A Gaza ceasefire would be possible tomorrow if Hamas freed Israeli hostages, US president Joe Biden has said.

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Hamas took around 240 people hostage during the October 7 attack, with 128 still being held by the group.

Speaking at a fundraiser near Seattle on Saturday, Mr Biden said: "There would be a ceasefire tomorrow if Hamas would release the hostages.

"Israel said it’s up to Hamas, if they wanted to do it, we could end it tomorrow. And the ceasefire would begin tomorrow."

His remarks came after the IDF said it is expanding its operation and moving into an area in northern Gaza where Hamas has regrouped.

There have been heavy clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants on the outskirts of Rafah, leaving crucial nearby aid crossings inaccessible and forcing more than 110,000 people to flee north.

Read more: Israel orders more residents to leave Rafah as it prepares to ramp up military action

Residents have been told to move out of Rafah
Residents have been told to move out of Rafah. Picture: Alamy

IDF spokesperson, Avichay Adraee, told people to leave for the “expanded humanitarian area” in Al-Mawasi “immediately” on Saturday.

He said those who stay will expose themselves and their families to danger.

Alyona Synenko from the International Committee of the Red Cross told LBC: "What we're seeing is people's plight is getting worse.

"The situation is chaotic, we're seeing people trying to move out by cars, by donkey carts, trying to take everything they have.

"Most of these people, it's not the first time they've had to flee, it's their second or third displacement.

"It's not enough to give people an evacuation warning, they need to have a safe location to go, they need to have basic sanitation conditions and right now they're asking desperately if anyone has tents."

Israel's move into Rafah has so far been short of the full-scale invasion that it has planned.

The United Nations and other agencies have warned for weeks that an Israeli assault on Rafah, would cripple humanitarian operations and cause a surge in civilian casualties.

Read more: Israel's use of US weapons in Gaza likely violated international humanitarian law, Biden administration finds

Read more: Israel’s Eurovision singer Eden Golan ordered to stay in her hotel room for her safety during pro-Palestine protest

Mr Biden's administration found earlier in the week that Israel's use of US weapons in Gaza likely violated international humanitarian law.

There is "reasonable" evidence that suggests Israel has breached international law in its conduct in Gaza since the war broke out in the wake of Hamas' terror attacks on October 7, a report by the US government said.

"Given Israel's significant reliance on US-made defence articles, it is reasonable to assess that defence articles have been used by Israeli security forces since 7 October in instances inconsistent with its international humanitarian law obligations or with established best practices for mitigating civilian harm," it said.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has said the country will "do what we have to do" to stop Hamas.

Speaking in an interview with Dr Phil on Thursday, he said: "We will do what we have to do to protect our country, and that means to protect our future. And that means we will defeat Hamas, including in Rafah. We have no other choice."

Mr Netanyahu also addressed US president Joe Biden's warning over an invasion of Rafah.

Mr Biden previously said that if Israel went into Rafah, "we're not going to supply the weapons and artillery shells used, that have been used".

He also paused a shipment of heavy bombs to Israel last week amid fears of an invasion.

Mr Netanyahu said: "I've known Joe Biden for many years, 40 years and more.

"We often had our agreements, but we've had our disagreements. We've been able to overcome them.

"I hope we can overcome them now."

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. Picture: Alamy

Meanwhile, the UK has also called into question its support for Israel in a full-scale invasion of Rafah - and UK Deputy Foreign Secretary Andrew Mitchell said he can't rule out the use of UK weapons if a Rafah offensive goes ahead.

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said the UK could not support a major offensive without a plan to protect civilian lives.

He said the UK was in a different situation to the US because the government did not supply weapons directly, but said arms export licences would continue to be measured against the risk of international humanitarian law being broken.

Answering questions following a speech in London, he said: "There's a very fundamental difference between the US situation and the UK situation.

"The US is a massive state supplier of weapons to Israel. We do not have a UK Government supply of weapons to Israel, we have a number of licences, and I think our defence exports to Israel are responsible for significantly less than 1% of their total. That is a big difference.

"On Rafah, we are clear that we would not support some major operation in Rafah unless there was a very clear plan for how to protect people and save lives, and all the rest of it.

"We have not seen that plan, so in the circumstances we will not support a major operation in Rafah."

Regarding the potential of a UK arms ban to Israel if the Rafah offensive goes ahead, UK Deputy Foreign Secretary Andrew Mitchell said: "We will have to see what legal advice the government gets but the approach which we take, it's the toughest arms regulation and arms export regime in the world, the approach we take is very clearly understood and we act in accordance with legal advice and we will continue to do so.

"When this came up before, had we decided to impose any arms embargo, just a few days later Israel was the subject of a direct attack using cruise missiles from Iran where we used our own military skill and weapons to defend Israel - it would have been a very odd situation to have imposed an arms embargo then a few days later used our own military to defend Israel from this heinous attack."

He went on to say: "We don't know what the nature of the offensive would be (but there is a) very great difference between America - which is a state-to-state supplier of arms - and Britain which is a tiny granter of licences for very small amounts.

"The way in which we judge these things is on the basis on the law and on the top legal advice we receive."

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