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Israel rules out 'pause' in fighting until Hamas frees hostages

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to press ahead in Gaza, ruling out even a temporary cease-fire, until Hamas frees more than two hundred hostages.

The Israeli leader’s rejection of “pauses” came after top US diplomat Antony Blinken visited Israel on Friday (Nov 3) to appeal for a temporary ceasefire. 

The US Secretary of State instead left Israel largely empty-handed, despite urging Israel’s leaders to do more to protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza during their war to destroy Hamas.

On Saturday, Blinken is due to hold talks in neighbouring Jordan with the foreign ministers of five Arab countries who have expressed mounting concern and anger over the civilian death toll from the conflict, now entering its fifth week.

After meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Blinken said he had discussed the idea of “humanitarian pauses” to secure the release of hostages and to allow aid to be distributed to Gaza’s beleaguered population.

“We believe that each of these efforts would be facilitated by humanitarian pauses, by arrangements on the ground that increase security for civilians and permit the more effective and sustained delivery of humanitarian assistance,” Blinken told journalists.

He also reiterated Washington’s long-standing support for the eventual recognition of a Palestinian state: “Two states for two peoples. Again, that is the only way to ensure lasting security for a Jewish and democratic Israel”.

HEZBOLLAH WARNING

The leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, Hassan Nasrallah, blamed the United States for the conflict as he broke weeks of silence amid concerns of a broader regional conflagration.

“America is entirely responsible for the ongoing war on Gaza and its people, and Israel is simply a tool of execution,” he said in a televised broadcast, accusing Washington of impeding “a ceasefire and the end of the aggression”.

Nasrallah warned Israel against attacking Lebanon and said the possibility of “total war is realistic”.

In Washington, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Hezbollah “should not try to take advantage of the ongoing conflict”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hezbollah it would “pay an unimaginable price” for any misstep.

The fighting was triggered by Hamas’s bloody raids on Oct 7, which Israeli officials say killed more than 1,400 people, mainly civilians.

The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says more than 9,227 people have died in Israeli bombardments, mostly women and children.

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WORKERS EXPELLED

After the Hamas assault, Israeli forces moved to re-establish security on the border, trapping thousands of Palestinian workers inside Israel.

On Friday, officials began to force them back into Gaza, AFP journalists at the Karem Abu Salem crossing saw.

“Thousands of workers who were blocked in Israel since October 7 have been brought back,” the head of Gaza’s crossings authority, Hisham Adwan, told AFP.

Israel had said it would start sending the workers back to Gaza.

“Israel is severing all contact with Gaza. There will be no more Palestinian workers from Gaza,” the Israeli security cabinet said on Thursday.

The United Nations Human Rights Office said it was “deeply concerned” about the expulsions.

“They are being sent back, we don’t know exactly to where,” and whether they “even have a home to go to”, spokeswoman Elizabeth Throssell told a news conference in Geneva.

Before the war started, some 18,500 Gazans held Israeli work permits, according to Israeli defence officials, but it was not clear how many were in the country on Oct 7.

Before his departure, Blinken said he would seek to ensure that harm to Palestinian civilians is reduced, in a visible shift of tone for the United States, which has promised full support and ramped-up military aid to Israel.

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