Israel agrees pauses in fighting but rules out ceasefire

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Israel has agreed pauses in its offensive in northern Gaza that will allow some civilians to flee heavy fighting, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ruled out any broader ceasefire as a “surrender” to Hamas. US President Joe Biden welcomed the pauses, which formalise an arrangement that has already seen tens of thousands of Palestinians flee devastation in northern Gaza, but also said there was “no possibility” of a ceasefire.

Netanyahu said Israeli troops were performing “exceptionally well” in the offensive launched after Hamas fighters poured across the border on October 7, killing 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 240 hostage. Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel retaliated with an aerial bombing and ground offensive that the health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip says has killed more than 10,800 people, mostly civilians and many of them children.

Netanyahu said Israel does not “seek to govern Gaza.” “We don’t seek to occupy it, but we seek to give it and us a better future,” he told Fox News. Tens of thousands of civilians have streamed out of devastated northern Gaza in recent days, with men, women and children clutching meagre possessions as they emerge from the devastated warzone. They have fled close-quarter fighting, with Hamas militants using rocket-propelled grenades against Israeli troops backed by armoured vehicles and heavy airstrikes.

The Israeli army said it struck a shipping container on the Gaza coast that contained rocket launchers, while Hamas’s military wing said it had fired rockets at Re’im military base in southern Israel. The UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said 70,000 people had travelled south on the route since November 4, most of them walking. Almost 1.6 million people have been internally displaced since October 7, it added, more than half the area’s population.

But the UN estimates hundreds of thousands of civilians remain in the fiercest battle zones in the north.

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