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Biden, Netanyahu speak as Israel plans Rafah operation


Smoke rises in the northern Gaza Strip, April 28, 2024. /CFP
Smoke rises in the northern Gaza Strip, April 28, 2024. /CFP

Smoke rises in the northern Gaza Strip, April 28, 2024. /CFP

The White House on Sunday said U.S. President Joe Biden had spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as pressure builds on Israel and Hamas to reach a deal that would free some Israeli hostages and bring a ceasefire in the nearly seven-month-long conflict in Gaza.

Biden reiterated his "clear position," according to a statement, as Israel plans to invade Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah despite global concern for the more than one million Palestinians sheltering there. He also stressed that progress in delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza be "sustained and enhanced." 

Israel has agreed to listen to U.S. concerns and thoughts before it launches an invasion of Rafah, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told ABC on Sunday. Israel is among the countries U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit as he returns to the Middle East on Monday.

Aid groups have warned that an invasion of Rafah would worsen the already desperate humanitarian situation in Gaza, where hunger is widespread.

The World Central Kitchen (WCK), a U.S.-based charity, announced on Sunday the resumption of its relief work in the Gaza Strip after a nearly month-long suspension in response to the killing of its seven staff members in an Israeli air strike.

The WCK said in a press statement that despite the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, it is "resuming its operations with the same energy, dignity, and focus on feeding as many people as possible."

It added, "We have so far distributed more than 43 million meals, and we are eager to provide millions more."

Palestinian Minister of Transport and Communications Tareq Zaarab estimated on Sunday that the losses in Gaza's transport and communications sectors have exceeded $3 billion due to Israeli attacks.

He made the remarks when presenting a report on the losses in Gaza's transport and communications sectors at a session of the Palestinian government held in the city of Ramallah in the West Bank.

Pehr Lodhammar, a senior officer at the United Nations Mine Action Service, has said the vast amount of rubble, including unexploded ordnance, left by Israel's strikes in the Gaza Strip could take about 14 years to remove.

No agreement if war continues

Negotiations to reach a deal between Israel and Hamas are ongoing.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a senior Hamas official, said on Sunday in a statement that the movement "will not accept any agreement that does not include a cessation of war in Gaza."

A Hamas delegation will visit Cairo on Monday for talks aimed at securing a ceasefire, a Hamas official told Reuters on Sunday, as mediators stepped up efforts to reach a deal ahead of the expected Israeli assault on Rafah.

Qatar, Egypt and the U.S. are seeking to facilitate a deal for a prisoner exchange and a second ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, following the first one that ended last December.

Israel estimated that there were still about 134 Israelis held hostage in Gaza, whereas Hamas announced that 70 of them had been killed in Israeli air strikes.

(With input from agencies)

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