Biden calls on Hamas to accept ceasefire by Ramadan

US President Joe Biden calls on Hamas to accept a Gaza ceasefire with Israel by the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan (Photograph: Nathan Howard / AFP)

US President Joe Biden called on Hamas on Tuesday to accept a Gaza ceasefire deal by the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, while the Palestinian militant group warned talks for a truce and hostage release cannot go on “indefinitely”.

As famine threatens Gazans, US and Jordanian planes again airdropped food aid into the besieged territory of 2.4 million people in a joint operation with Egypt and France.

US Vice President Kamala Harris has expressed “deep concern about the humanitarian conditions in Gaza”, while the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported children dying of starvation in two northern Gaza hospitals.

Envoys from Hamas and the United States have been meeting Qatari and Egyptian mediators in Cairo for negotiations over a six-week truce, the exchange of dozens of remaining hostages for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and the flow of aid to Gaza.

Egypt’s Al-Qahera News, which is close to the country’s intelligence services, said the talks would continue for a fourth consecutive day on Wednesday.

Biden warned Hamas to agree to a Gaza truce by Ramadan, which begins early next week, after his top diplomat Antony Blinken urged it to accept an “immediate ceasefire”.

“It’s in the hands of Hamas right now,” the US president told reporters from Maryland.

“There’s got to be a ceasefire because Ramadan — if we get into circumstances where this continues to Ramadan, Israel and Jerusalem could be very, very dangerous.”

He did not elaborate but the United States urged Israel last week to allow Muslims to worship at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem during Ramadan.

The Israeli government said it would allow Muslim worshippers access to Al-Aqsa during Ramadan “in similar numbers to those in previous years”.

– Hostage list –

The talks in Cairo have so far not included Israel, with Israeli media reporting that its delegates had boycotted the talks after Hamas failed to provide a list of living hostages.

However, senior Hamas leader Bassem Naim told AFP that details on the prisoners “were not mentioned in any documents or proposals circulated during the negotiation process”.

Osama Hamdan, a Hamas official in Beirut, said his group would “not allow the path of negotiations to be open indefinitely”.

Israel has said it believes 130 of the 250 captives taken by Hamas fighters in their unprecedented October 7 attack, which triggered the war, remain in Gaza but that 31 have been killed.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani met and agreed that “the release of sick, wounded, elderly, and women hostages would result in an immediate ceasefire in Gaza over a period of at least six weeks”.

The first phase of a ceasefire would enable “a surge of humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza, and provide time and space to secure more enduring arrangements and sustained calm”, a White House readout of the meeting said.

– Famine looms –

Israel is facing increasing criticism from its top ally the United States as conditions in the besieged Palestinian territory deteriorate and famine looms.

Harris met Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz in Washington on Monday, the same day the WHO said an aid mission at the weekend found that 10 children had died of starvation at the Al-Awda and Kamal Adwan hospitals.

In Khan Yunis, the main city in Gaza’s south, people described finding decomposing bodies lying in streets lined with destroyed buildings.

“We want to eat and live. Take a look at our homes. How am I to blame, a single, unarmed person without any income in this impoverished country?” said Nader Abu Shanab, pointing to the rubble with blackened hands.

American cargo planes airdropped more than 36,000 meals into Gaza Tuesday in a joint operation with Jordan, which said French and Egyptian planes also took part.

The UN’s World Food Programme said Israeli troops turned away an aid convoy at a checkpoint leading to northern Gaza and that it was later looted “by desperate people”.

The Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7 resulted in about 1,160 deaths, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed more than 30,600 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.

– UN tensions –

Tensions have flared between Israel and the United Nations over the handling of allegations of sexual assault by Hamas militants during the October attack.

The United Nations published a report on Monday that said there were “reasonable grounds to believe” rapes were committed and that hostages taken to Gaza had also been raped.

Israel has accused the United Nations of taking too long to respond to the claims and recalled its UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan shortly after the report’s release.

The war has sparked violence across the region, including near-daily exchanges of fire between Israeli forces and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.

The US military said it shot down three drones and a missile fired towards one of its destroyers in the Red Sea Huthi rebels in Yemen on Tuesday.

A statement by US Central Command said “one anti-ship ballistic missile and three one-way attack unmanned aerial systems” had been shot down and that its ship, the USS Carney, was undamaged.

Iran-backed Huthis have been attacking shipping in the Red Sea for months, saying they were hitting Israel-linked vessels in support of Palestinians in Gaza.

Anger over Israel’s Gaza campaign has grown across the Middle East, stoking violence involving Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.