In the midst of ongoing hostilities in Gaza, President Joe Biden has proposed a “pause” in the conflict to facilitate the release of hostages. This call comes as Hamas discloses a distressing toll of nearly 200 casualties resulting from two consecutive days of Israeli airstrikes on the Jabalia refugee camp.
President Biden made this statement during a campaign fundraiser event in Minneapolis, responding to an interjection from a woman who implored him to advocate for a ceasefire, particularly for the well-being of Jewish people. His response was, “I think we need a pause. A pause means to allow time for the release of prisoners.” The White House later clarified that he was referring to hostages held by Hamas.
The White House had previously endorsed “humanitarian pauses” to permit the delivery of aid to Gaza and carry out evacuations. However, they have refrained from discussing a ceasefire, believing it would exclusively serve Hamas’s interests. A “pause” is generally regarded as a less formal and shorter cessation of hostilities.
This call marks a subtle shift in the stance of President Biden and senior White House officials, who, throughout the crisis, have consistently maintained that they would not dictate how Israel conducts its military operations in response to the October 7th attack by Hamas, which claimed the lives of 1,400 individuals, a majority of whom were Israeli civilians. In response, Israeli retaliatory actions have resulted in the deaths of 8,796 Palestinians, including 3,648 children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.
Recent Israeli airstrikes on Gaza’s largest refugee camp in Jabalia have amplified the camp’s death toll to 195, with an additional 120 individuals still unaccounted for under the rubble, as reported by a Hamas-controlled government media office. Moreover, at least 777 more people have been injured, according to the same source.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) revealed that their recent strike eliminated Muhammad A’sar, the commander of Hamas’s anti-tank guided missile unit. The IDF claimed that Tuesday’s attack targeted Ibrahim Biari, a pivotal Hamas commander associated with the October 7th attacks. IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari mentioned that Biari had been leading operations in northern Gaza from a network of tunnels beneath the camp.
While Hagari acknowledged the demise of numerous Hamas fighters in the strike, he refrained from providing specific numbers or commenting on civilian casualties. Hamas reported the loss of seven hostages, including three foreign passport holders, in Tuesday’s attack. On Wednesday, the United Nations Human Rights Office suggested that Israel’s airstrike on the Jabalia camp might constitute a war crime.
Meanwhile, following more than three weeks of siege, hundreds of foreign nationals and dozens of severely injured Palestinians have been granted permission to depart from Gaza. By late Wednesday, at least 335 dual nationals and 76 severely injured or ill individuals had crossed the border, with additional departures anticipated. Biden anticipates more individuals departing in the coming days.
Those granted departure included citizens and dual passport holders from countries such as Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Indonesia, Japan, and Jordan, along with staff members from various aid organizations. It is noteworthy that initially, only two British nationals were among the 500 individuals eligible for departure.
Philippe Lazzarini, the Commissioner General for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), described his visit to Gaza as “one of the saddest days” in his humanitarian career. Lazzarini emphasized the urgent need for a meaningful humanitarian response to alleviate the dire situation in Gaza, as he witnessed the immense suffering and unsanitary living conditions.
In light of these developments, the White House has announced that the newly confirmed U.S. ambassador to Israel, Jack Lew, will be dispatched to the Middle East to support efforts aimed at creating conditions for a humanitarian pause to address the worsening humanitarian crisis facing Palestinian civilians. President Biden reiterated his support for a two-state solution, acknowledging the complexities of the situation and characterizing Hamas as a terrorist organization.
This ongoing conflict continues to draw international concern and efforts to mitigate the human toll and suffering in the region.