(Bloomberg) -- US President Joe Biden said he remains hopeful about the prospects for a temporary pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas but that it is unlikely to begin by Monday as he originally sought. 

“Hope springs eternal. I was on the telephone with the people in the region. I’m still working on it. Probably not by Monday, but I’m hopeful,” Biden told reporters Thursday at the White House before departing for Texas. 

The White House later announced that Biden spoke Thursday with the leaders of Qatar and Egypt, which — along with the US — are moderating the cease-fire negotiations between Israel and Hamas. 

 

Biden this week expressed optimism that negotiators were making progress and that a cease-fire could take effect by Monday. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said last weekend that representatives had agreed on the “broad contours” of a deal.  

Biden cautioned that a deadly confrontation earlier Thursday around an aid convoy in Gaza will complicate those talks. The emerging agreement calls for a six-week stoppage in fighting to allow for the release of Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners and for more humanitarian supplies to enter the war-torn territory. The president said his administration was looking into the incident. 

Earlier: Dozens Dead After Violence Near Aid Trucks in Gaza City

“This latest event needs to be thoroughly investigated,” White House deputy press secretary Olivia Dalton told reporters later Thursday aboard Air Force One.

A Hamas official told Bloomberg News that the killings around the aid shipment cast a cloud on talks to secure a pause in fighting. The official said the group, considered a terrorist organization by the US and European Union, is considering freezing the negotiating process until Washington and its allies apply more pressure on Israel to stop its military onslaught.

Over 100 Palestinians were killed and more were injured Thursday, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health authority, as food trucks tried to deliver humanitarian aid to the northern part of the strip. Local officials blamed Israeli forces for the violence. 

Deadly Chaos

An eyewitness, Mohammed al-Shouli, described a tumultuous scene on the ground, telling Bloomberg News in a phone interview that thousands of people had gathered to wait for the convoy and began to swarm the trucks as they started passing an Israeli checkpoint around 4 a.m. 

One Israeli military officer said some Gazans approached the forces in a threatening manner, and some soldiers responded with gunfire. An early Israeli army account said a handful of the casualties were caused by its troops, the rest a result of the chaos, in which people stumbled over one another and others ran away with aid supplies.

The Israeli military’s chief spokesman, Daniel Hagari, later said the deaths occurred when Palestinians attempted to loot the aid trucks. Israeli troops fired warning shots in an attempt to disperse the crowd and when the situation grew out of control, Gazans were trampled and run over by trucks.

“I emphasize that we did not shoot at the aid seekers — contrary to the accusations,” Hagari said. “We did not fire at the humanitarian convoy either from the air or from the ground. We secured it so it could reach the north of the Gaza Strip.”

Israel’s war in Gaza to root out Hamas following its deadly Oct. 7 attack is nearing the end of its fifth month. The military campaign has left more than 30,000 people dead, according to the territory’s health ministry, and sparked a humanitarian crisis there.

Political Pressure

Biden has supported Israel’s right to self-defense but urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to scale back his military campaign in Gaza. He’s also demanded that Netanyahu evacuate civilians before moving ahead with a planned offensive in the southern enclave of Rafah, where many Palestinians fled from Israel’s earlier strikes in the north.

The violence and human suffering has put political pressure on Biden, whose support for Israel has chafed Muslim and Arab Americans, as well as some young and Black voters, who helped propel him to victory in 2020. 

Roughly 13% of voters in Michigan, a swing state that Biden won in 2020 which has a large Muslim and Arab population, voted “uncommitted” in Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primary. Pro-Palestinian activists urged the vote against Biden as protest against his Mideast policy. Biden won more than 81% of the vote in the contest. 

--With assistance from Jennifer Jacobs, Ethan Bronner, Fares Akram and Akayla Gardner.

(Updates to add comments from Israeli military spokesman in paragraphs 11-12)

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.