US President Joe Biden
US President Joe Biden speaks at a meeting. Image Credit: AFP file photo

Rafah: US President Joe Biden said on Friday that Israel was offering a new roadmap towards a full ceasefire in Gaza that he urged Hamas to accept, saying it's "time for this war to end".

Biden's intervention, which had been heavily trailed, came as Israeli troops pushed into central Rafah, escalating its nearly eight-month war with Hamas despite international objections to any assault on the south Gaza city.

It also came as top diplomat Antony Blinken acknowledged that despite US efforts to get more aid into Gaza, the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territory remained "dire".

In his first major address outlining how the Gaza war might end, Biden said that Israel's three-stage offer would begin with a six-week phase that would see Israeli forces withdraw from all populated areas of Gaza.

It would also see the "release of a number of hostages, including women, the elderly, the wounded, in exchange for (the) release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners."

Israel and the Palestinians would then negotiate during those six weeks for a lasting ceasefire - but the truce would continue while the talks remained underway, Biden said.

The US president urged Hamas to accept the Israeli offer.

"It's time for this war to end, for the day after to begin," he said, adding: "We can't lose this moment" to seize the chance for peace.

After successive rounds of indirect negotiations in recent months all failed, Hamas said earlier Friday that it had informed mediators it would only agree a "comprehensive" truce including a hostage-prisoner swap if Israel halts its "aggression".

TOPSHOT - Palestinians flee with their belongings as smoke rises in the background, in the area of Tel al-Sultan in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 30, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP) Image Credit: AFP

Blinken says aid situation 'dire'

A stream of civilians has flooded out of Rafah, taking their belongings on their shoulders, in cars or on donkey-drawn carts.

Before the Rafah offensive began, the United Nations said up to 1.4 million people were sheltering in the city. Since then, one million have fled the area, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, has said.

The Israeli seizure of the Rafah crossing has further slowed sporadic deliveries of aid for Gaza's 2.4 million people and effectively shuttered the territory's main exit point.

Israel said at the weekend that aid deliveries had been stepped up.

But US Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged on Friday that the humanitarian situation was "dire" despite US efforts to bring in more assistance.

The World Food Programme said daily life had become "apocalyptic" in parts of southern Gaza since Israel began its assault on Rafah in early May.

The agency was able to provide "ever decreasing amounts of assistance", with all of its bakeries in Rafah closed due to a lack of fuel and supplies, its director for the Palestinian territories, Matthew Hollingworth, said.