Joe Biden defies pressure to give Israel deadline to end campaign against Hamas

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President Joe Biden signalled that the US had not given Israel a timeframe to conclude its military campaign against Hamas, despite mounting pressure from international allies, officials in his administration and members of the Democratic party to press Israel to rein in its operation in Gaza.

Biden said on Wednesday that Israel’s war against the Islamist militant group would end “when Hamas no longer maintains the capacity to murder, abuse and just do horrific things” to Israel.

“How long it’s going to last, I don’t know,” Biden said at a press conference on Wednesday after meeting China’s leader Xi Jinping outside San Francisco.

Israel declared war against Hamas after the group launched a surprise attack on October 7 that killed 1,200 people across southern Israel, according to Israeli officials, and has vowed to oust it from the Gaza Strip.

The assault on Gaza has killed more than 11,000 people, according to Palestinian officials, and hospitals have gradually ceased operating over the past two weeks as Israeli forces have advanced deeper into the coastal enclave and restricted shipments of fuel, water and food.

“One thing has been established . . . Hamas does have headquarters, weapons, materiel below this hospital and I suspect others,” Biden said, referring to al-Shifa hospital, the largest in Gaza, which Israel’s military entered earlier on Wednesday in what it called a “targeted” operation to find Hamas weapons and infrastructure.

Israel contends that the hospital sits on top of an underground network of tunnels that house the group’s command centres.

Biden said the situation created a “terrible dilemma” for Israel but drew a distinction between Hamas, which he said has vowed to attack Israel “again and again”, and Israel’s military, which he said was acting with deliberation.

“The IDF . . . acknowledges they have an obligation to use as much caution as they can in going after their targets, it’s not like they’re rushing into the hospital knocking down doors and pulling people aside and shooting people indiscriminately,” Biden said.

The US president also indicated that there was progress in talks among Qatar, Hamas, Israel and others to release some of the hostages held by Hamas, which according to Israel number more than 200.

Biden suggested that Israel had already agreed to a pause in the fighting as part of that effort but backtracked and said he was “getting into too much detail”.

“I am mildly hopeful,” Biden said.

While Israel has agreed to pauses of several hours each day, Washington is pressing to extend them to a few days in order to allow more humanitarian assistance to enter the besieged strip and time to get hostages out.

US officials said they believed as many as 10 American citizens were among the hostages held by Hamas.

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