Israel agrees to pauses in fighting but rules out ceasefire

(UPDATE) ISRAEL has agreed to pauses in its offensive in northern Gaza that will allow some civilians to flee heavy fighting, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ruled out any broader ceasefire as a “surrender” to Hamas.

US President Joe Biden welcomed the pauses, which formalize 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.

WHEN SMOKE CLEARS This picture taken from the Israeli side of the border with the Gaza Strip on Friday, Nov. 10, 2023, shows billowing smoke following the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Hamas movement. AFP PHOTO

WHEN SMOKE CLEARS This picture taken from the Israeli side of the border with the Gaza Strip on Friday, Nov. 10, 2023, shows billowing smoke following the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Hamas movement. AFP PHOTO

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 hostages.

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.”

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Tens of thousands of civilians have streamed out of devastated northern Gaza in recent days, with men, women and children clutching meager possessions as they emerge from the devastated warzone.

The UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said 70,000 people had traveled 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 that hundreds of thousands of civilians remain in the fiercest battle zones in the north.

And while Biden welcomed the pauses as a “step in the right direction,” there was little hope for the broader halt to fighting that aid groups and the UN say is desperately needed.

“A ceasefire with Hamas means surrender to Hamas, surrender to terror,” Netanyahu told Fox. “There won’t be a ceasefire without the release of Israeli hostages; that’s not going to happen.”

Aid groups have pleaded for a ceasefire, warning of a humanitarian “catastrophe” in Gaza, where food, water and medicine are in short supply.

Overnight, fierce clashes continued, and Hamas-run local authorities accused Israel of shelling the areas of several hospitals in northern Gaza.

The Al-Shifa hospital, where an estimated 60,000 people have taken refuge, along with the Rantisi children’s hospital and the Indonesian hospital, all came under fire overnight, Hamas authorities said.

The bombardments caused injuries but no deaths, they added.

Israel has accused Hamas of using hospitals, including Al-Shifa, to hide its military operations. The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the alleged bombardments.

Complicating Israel’s military push is the fate of around 240 hostages abducted on October 7.

CIA director Bill Burns and David Barnea, head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, were in Doha for talks on pauses that would include hostage releases and more aid for Gaza, an official told AFP.

Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad released a video on Thursday claiming to show two hostages — a woman in her 70s and a 13-year-old boy — which, if verified, would suggest not all captives are held by Hamas.

Israel’s military slammed the video as “psychological terrorism.”

Four hostages have been freed so far, and the desperate relatives of those still held have piled pressure on Israeli and US authorities to secure the release of their loved ones.

Inside Gaza, the intense combat and effective blockade of the densely populated territory have led to increasingly dire conditions.

Donors at an aid conference in Paris have pledged around $1.1 billion, but access to Gaza remains very limited, with around 100 trucks a day able to enter, far below the pre-war average.

Israeli officials, however, insist there is “no humanitarian crisis” in Gaza.

Violence has surged in the occupied West Bank since the conflict erupted, with at least 14 Palestinians killed on Thursday alone, according to the Ramallah-based health ministry.

The conflict has also stoked regional tensions, with cross-border exchanges between the Israeli army and Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels saying they launched “ballistic missiles” at southern Israel.

Filipinos were among the scores of foreigners who were trapped by the fighting in Gaza.

On Friday, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said 56 more Filipinos left the Palestinian enclave and crossed into Egypt.

In a statement on his social media, Marcos said the evacuees bring to 98 the number of Filipinos who have left Gaza.

The President said that 34 of the 98 Filipinos will arrive in Manila on Friday afternoon.

There were 137 Filipinos in the Gaza Strip when the Israel-Hamas war broke out on October 7.

Two Filipino medical workers crossed the border to Egypt last week, followed by 40 others on Wednesday.

On Thursday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the border crossing at Rafah was closed for “security reasons.”

The DFA said it has a standby fund of $297,746 (approximately P6 million) to finance the repatriation of Filipinos from Gaza.

Philippine Ambassador to Egypt Ezzedin Tago on Thursday said that the reopening of the border crossing will depend on the security situation in the area.

But he said officers from the Philippine Embassy in Cairo were standing by on the Egyptian side of the border.

The Philippine Embassy in Tel Aviv has followed up on its request to Israeli authorities for information about the two missing Filipinos, who were earlier reported as among the foreigners taken hostage by Hamas.

Ambassador Pedro Laylo Jr. has personally conveyed to Israeli President Isaac Herzog the Philippine government’s request for additional information on Gelienor Pacheco and Noralin Babadilla, the DFA said.

Laylo and Herzog talked about the four Filipinos — Angelyn Aguirre, Grace Cabrera, Paul Vincent Castelvi and Loreta Alacre — who were killed during the attacks. The ambassador said some of them were killed while taking care of their wards.

Herzog said he knows the story of Camille Jesalva, the Filipino caregiver who offered her savings to Hamas gunmen to save the Israeli grandmother she is taking care of.

In a virtual press conference, Israeli Ambassador to Manila Ilan Fluss said “there is no final exact information” whether the Filipinos were among those abducted by Hamas.

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