Palestinian leader Abbas calls for ‘immediate ceasefire’

Palestinian Authority president meets US secretary of state Antony Blinken in West Bank city of Ramallah

Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas told US secretary of state Antony Blinken there must be an “immediate ceasefire” and humanitarian aid allowed to enter the Gaza Strip, his spokesman said.

Mr Blinken made an unannounced visit to the occupied West Bank on Sunday and met Mr Abbas as he continues a tour of the region amid spiralling tensions over Israel’s war with Hamas.

The death toll in Gaza since October 7th has reached 9,770 Palestinians, including 4,800 children, according to the Hamas-run ministry of health. The figures have not been independently verified.

The two men met in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the de facto Palestinian capital, on his second visit to the region since Palestinian Hamas fighters launched a surprise attack on southern Israel on October 7th, killing 1,400 people and taking more than 240 others hostage.

Mr Blinken rebuffed calls for a ceasefire from Arab officials on Saturday after appealing, unsuccessfully, to Israel for more limited pauses to the fighting a day earlier.

As well as seeking to ensure the conflict does not spread in the region, Mr Blinken is trying to kick-start discussions on how Gaza could be governed after the complete destruction of Hamas that Israel says is its aim.

The two met for about an hour but did not address the media.

Mr Abbas told Mr Blinken there should be an immediate ceasefire and that aid should be allowed into Gaza, according to spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh.

Mr Blinken said the United States was committed to getting aid into Gaza and restoring essential services there, a spokesman said.

“The Secretary also expressed the commitment of the United States to working toward the realisation of the Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations for the establishment of a Palestinian state,” the spokesman added.

US president Joe Biden signalled there were small signs of progress being made towards a humanitarian pause in the war between Israel and Hamas on Saturday. US officials have been pushing for a pause but so far with little impact.

However, the United States and its Arab allies appeared divided over calls for a ceasefire in Israel’s military offensive against Hamas, however, as the US pushed for a more temporary pause in fighting amid growing global anger over the rising death toll among Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip.

On Sunday, French foreign minister Catherine Colonna repeated calls for an “immediate humanitarian truce” in Gaza, which she said must be able to lead to a ceasefire, adding that too many civilians have died in Israeli strikes.

On Saturday, several Middle East foreign ministers urged the US to persuade Israel to agree to a ceasefire in a meeting with US secretary of state Mr Blinken. The top US diplomat, however, dismissed the idea, saying such a halt would only benefit Hamas, allowing the militant organisation to regroup and attack again.

The diplomatic wrangling came as the conflict entered its fifth week.

More than 30 people were killed in an Israeli bombing of the Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza late on Saturday, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says.

Hamas said in a statement on Telegram that Israel had “directly” bombed citizens’ homes, adding that most of the dead were women and children.

The Palestinian news agency Wafa earlier put the death toll at 51, with scores wounded.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society received 30 aid trucks that entered Gaza through the Rafah border crossing on Saturday. Three were handed to the Red Cross and 19 to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. Eight trucks from the Egyptian Red Crescent were delivered to the Palestine Red Crescent.

Gaza’s Hamas-run government of Gaza suspended the evacuation of foreign passport holders to Egypt on Saturday after Israel refused to allow some wounded Palestinians to be evacuated to Egyptian hospitals, a border official said.

Israeli clashes with Palestinians were reported across the occupied West Bank overnight on Saturday, including in Jenin, Nablus and Tulkarm.

Hamas’s armed wing said more than 60 hostages were missing due to Israeli airstrikes in Gaza. A spokesman for the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam brigades also said on Hamas’s Telegram account that 23 bodies of Israeli hostages were trapped under the rubble. Reuters could not immediately verify the statement.

Protesters gathered outside the residence of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu amid growing anger at the government’s failures that led to Hamas’s deadly attacks against Israel on October 7th.

Protesters also gathered in Tel Aviv, with many holding signs that said “Ceasefire” and others that read “Release the hostages now at all costs”. – Agencies

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