The Latest | Biden says Israel is willing to halt war during Ramadan if a hostage deal is reached

Feb 26, 2024, 10:46 PM | Updated: Feb 27, 2024, 1:26 pm

President Joe Biden says Israel would be willing to halt its war on Hamas in Gaza during the upcoming Muslim fasting month of Ramadan if a deal is reached to release some of the hostages held by the militants.

Negotiators from the U.S., Egypt and Qatar are working on a framework deal under which Hamas would free some of the dozens of hostages it holds, in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners and a six-week halt in fighting. During the temporary pause, negotiations would continue over the release of the remaining hostages.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said earlier that the army had presented to the War Cabinet its operational plan for a ground offensive into Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost town along the border with Egypt, where 1.4 million Palestinians have sought safety.

The war has unleashed a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and the situation in Rafah has sparked global concern. Israel’s allies have warned that it must protect civilians in its battle against Hamas.

In the past 24 hours alone, the bodies of 96 people streamed in to hospitals along with 144 wounded, Gaza’s Health Ministry said.

Nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been killed after almost five months of Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip, according to the Health Ministry, which does not distinguish in its count between fighters and noncombatants. Israel says it has killed 10,000 militants, without providing evidence.

The war began after Hamas-led militants stormed across southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 250 others hostage.


— Israel and Hamas indicate no deal is imminent after Biden signals Gaza cease-fire could be close.

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— U.S. sanctions Iranian deputy commander, Houthi member and ships that transport Iranian oil.

— Qatar’s emir to discuss Gaza and hostages with Macron during a state visit to France.

— Biden implores Congress to avoid a government shutdown, send urgent aid to Ukraine and Israel.

— Find more of AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

Here’s the latest:


JERUSALEM — The Israeli military says an anti-tank missile launched from Lebanon has landed “in the area” of an air-control installation in northern Israel.

The army says the strike did not harm the site’s capabilities. It says it is now striking Hezbollah targets in Lebanon.

The army says it detected a total of 20 launches from Lebanon on Tuesday. It says some were intercepted by air defense systems while others landed in open areas.

Hezbollah claimed two strikes on the Meron air control installation Tuesday, the first of which it said was in retaliation for Israel’s strikes on the Baalbek area deep inside Lebanese territory on Monday.

The militant group claimed the second strike “led to the damage and complete destruction” of some of the facility’s “technical and espionage equipment.”

Both sides’ battlefield claims could not be independently verified.

Israel and the Lebanese militant group have been exchanging fire almost daily since the war between Israel and Hamas erupted on Oct. 7. Israel’s defense minister this week vowed to step up the attacks on Hezbollah.


LONDON — Jordan said it air-dropped humanitarian aid directly into the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, the latest relief drop orchestrated by the country’s military during the war.

Three C-130 cargo planes from the Jordanian air force took part alongside one plane each from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and France.

The packages contained “relief and food aid” and were released by planes flying at low altitude above Gaza’s Mediterranean shoreline, the Jordanian military said in a statement. One aircraft brought medical supplies and fuel to a Jordanian-run field hospital in southern Gaza.

Videos posted on social media showed crowds eagerly gathered along the beach in Gaza, and aid packages dangling from parachutes slowly descending into the water offshore. A few Palestinians paddled out in small boats to retrieve the aid and distribute it to people waiting on shore, many of them children.

Last week, a Jordanian Air Force plane delivered a U.K.-funded aid shipment directly to a hospital in northern Gaza.

Most humanitarian aid for Gaza goes through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. The United Nations says 138 truckloads of aid entered Gaza on Tuesday. Aid groups said they’ve faced a cumbersome inspection process that allows only a trickle of aid to enter even as needs mounted. Israel says the inspections are needed for security reasons.


JERUSALEM — An Israeli whose cousin is being held hostage in Gaza said his family was feeling “encouraged” by recent discussions over a possible cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

Both Israel and Hamas downplayed the idea of an imminent deal after U.S. President Joe Biden said that Israel agreed to pause its offensive during the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan if a deal is reached to release some hostages held by Hamas. Biden said the deal could happen as early as next Monday. His comments brought hope to many hostage families.

“We see that we’re standing at a place where we can get to an agreement, because the people at the top see a path,” said Gil Dickmann, whose cousin Carmel Gat has been held in Gaza since Hamas’ attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7.

Dickmann’s other cousin, Yarden Roman-Gat, was released during a weeklong cease-fire in November along with around 110 other hostages. Dickmann said their family was clinging to each shred of information.

“We know that everything that’s said is a tool in the negotiations to push them in a certain way, so we’re looking at what is said and also their intention,” said Dickmann.

He said his family, and many other families of the approximately 100 hostages held in Gaza, are working around the clock to ensure that the world does not forget the plight of the captives.

“We can be optimistic, but we can’t take our foot off the gas until we see Carmel, healthy and whole, stepping out of a Red Cross ambulance,” he said.


GENEVA — The U.N. is calling for the release of two Palestinian Red Crescent paramedics detained by Israeli forces during an operation to evacuate two dozen people from a hospital in the central city of Khan Younis, where medical staff were ordered to strip off their clothes.

A convoy led by the U.N.’s World Health Organization evacuating 24 patients from Al Amal Hospital on Sunday was stopped “the moment it left the hospital” — in a check that had been previously flagged to Israeli authorities, the U.N. said Tuesday.

“This is not an isolated incident,” Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told a U.N. press briefing in Geneva.

The Israeli army did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Laerke noted that aid convoys have come under fire and are “systematically” denied access to people in need.

The U.N. and its affiliates have long lamented a lack of access for humanitarians in Gaza since Israel’s government launched a blistering military assault following the deadly Oct. 7 attacks against civilians in Israel.

WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said northern Gaza hasn’t received any humanitarian aid since Jan. 23 — or over a month ago — and it is needed to avoid preventable deaths from malnutrition and disease.

Laerke said aid trucks that do get into Gaza often get stopped by crowds as they enter, acknowledging “a certain understanding that desperate people take what they can. It’s absolutely not optimal way of doing humanitarian distribution.”

At times, “there seems to be elements of criminal activity where some kind of gangs are taking some of the relief off the convoys that later appear in the black market,” Laerke said. “That should, of course, never happen. It is linked to the increasing breakdown of civil order inside Gaza after … almost five months now of war.”


BEIRUT— The Israeli military on Tuesday struck southern Lebanon with airstrikes, including what a Lebanese security official in the area described as an important Hezbollah headquarters near the coastal city of Sidon.

Israel’s strikes in recent weeks have regularly struck areas farther north, away from the usual cluster of districts in southern Lebanon near the border.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. The Israeli military said they targeted a Hezbollah base and infrastructure belonging to the militant group in several towns in southern Lebanon.

The Lebanese official said several civilians were lightly wounded. Hezbollah did not immediately announce any casualties.

The Israeli military said that the airstrikes were in response to Hezbollah firing about 35 rockets on the Mount Meron area in northern Israel.

Hezbollah early Tuesday said the rocket attack, which was in retaliation for Israeli strikes deep into northeastern Lebanon on Monday near the city of Baalbek, targeted a key Israeli military aerial control unit. The Israeli military said there were no injuries or damage.

Hezbollah and allied militant groups have been clashing with Israeli troops along the Lebanon-Israel border since Oct. 8, a day after Hamas’ rampage in southern Israel that sparked the ongoing war in Gaza.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, said Tuesday that the recent escalations put at risk a possible political and diplomatic solution to the hostilities as they try to mediate between both sides.

“It has jeopardized the livelihoods and changed the life of tens of thousands of civilians on both sides of the Blue Line,” UNIFIL head of mission and force commander Lt. Gen. Aroldo Lázaro said in a statement. “Yet we now see an expansion and intensification of strikes.”


By Associated Press writer Kareem Chehayeb


RAFAH, Gaza Strip — The bodies of 96 people killed in Israeli bombardments have been brought to hospitals in the war-wrecked Gaza Strip in the past 24 hours, the Hamas-run Health Ministry there said Tuesday. Hospitals also received 144 wounded, it added.

The new fatalities brought the death toll in the strip to 29,878 since the Israel-Hamas war began on Oct. 7, the ministry said in its daily briefing. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants, but said two-thirds of the dead were children and women.

Another 70,215 have been wounded in the war, it said.

The ministry said many casualties remain under the rubble and first responders have been unable to retrieve them amid the relentless bombing.

The war, launched after Hamas-led militants rampaged across southern Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking roughly 250 people hostage, has unleashed unprecedented devastation in Gaza.


CAIRO — Israeli troops shot and killed three Palestinian men early Tuesday in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian health authorities said.

The military wing of the militant group Islamic Jihad claimed the three as members. One of those killed, identified as Mohammed Daraghmeh, 26, was a co-founder of the local branch of Islamic Jihad in the northern town of Tubas, the group said.

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said the men, who ranged in age from 26 to 32, were shot in the head, chest and neck.

Palestinian media reported that they were killed in Faraa refugee camp near Tubas.

The West Bank has seen a surge of violence since the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza broke out Oct. 7. More than 400 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire there during that time, most in confrontations sparked by near-daily military raids in search of suspected militants.


WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden says Israel would be willing to halt its war on Hamas in Gaza during the upcoming Muslim fasting month of Ramadan if a deal is reached to release some of the hostages held by the militants.

Negotiators from the U.S., Egypt and Qatar are working on a framework deal under which Hamas would free some of the dozens of hostages it holds, in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners and a six-week halt in fighting. During the temporary pause, negotiations would continue over the release of the remaining hostages.

If a deal is reached in coming days, this timeline would also include Ramadan, which starts around March 10.

Biden’s comments in an interview taped Monday for NBC’s “Late Night With Seth Meyers” were the most detailed yet about a possible halt in fighting during the holy month, a time of heightened religious observance and dawn-to-dusk fasting.

“Ramadan’s coming up and there has been an agreement by the Israelis that they would not engage in activities during Ramadan as well, in order to give us time to get all the hostages out,” Biden said.


WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Monday that he hopes a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas that would pause hostilities and allow for the remaining hostages to be released can take effect by early next week.

Asked when he hoped such a deal could be finalized, Biden said: “Well I hope by the beginning of the weekend. The end of the weekend. My national security adviser tells me that they’re close. They’re close. They’re not done yet. My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said Sunday that an Israeli military offensive in the southernmost city of Rafah could be “delayed somewhat” if a deal for a weekslong cease-fire between Israel and Hamas is reached. He claims that total victory in Gaza is “weeks away” once the offensive begins.

Talks toward a deal have resumed at the specialist level in Qatar, which is one of the mediators.

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The Latest | Biden says Israel is willing to halt war during Ramadan if a hostage deal is reached