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US president Joe Biden has called for a “pause” in the fighting between Israel and Hamas in order to help free hostages held in Gaza.

Speaking at an event in Minnesota on Wednesday, Biden was interrupted by a member of the audience who urged him to back a ceasefire in the Middle Eastern conflict. “I think we need a pause,” the president said. “A pause means give time to get the prisoners out.”

Biden’s comments did not represent a call for a full ceasefire, which the White House has resisted since the war between Israel and Hamas began three weeks ago. But US officials have said in recent days they would consider supporting a temporary interruption of hostilities if it were limited to helping humanitarian efforts.

Biden added that he understood the “emotion” the conflict was eliciting on all sides. “This is incredibly complicated for the Israelis. It’s incredibly complicated for the Muslim world as well,” he said. “I supported a two-state solution, I have from the very beginning.”

The president’s remarks follow mounting international concern about high civilian casualties and the deterioration of living conditions resulting from Israel’s bombing campaign against Gaza as it tries to quash Hamas, the group responsible for the deadly October 7 attack on Israel.

While backing Israel’s right to defend itself, Biden has urged the unity government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to minimise the toll on civilians in its response and remain within the bounds of humanitarian law and the rules of international conflict.

Many US Democrats have been pushing for an interruption of hostilities on humanitarian grounds, though a group of progressive leftwing lawmakers is asking the White House to go further and embrace a ceasefire.

Biden’s willingness to consider backing a pause in the conflict comes as US secretary of state Antony Blinken plans a visit to the Middle East, starting with Israel, this week for a new round of diplomatic talks on the conflict.

In the wake of US pressure to ease tensions across the region, some people in need of medical treatment and some foreign citizens were allowed to leave Gaza for Egypt through the Rafah crossing on the western side of the strip on Wednesday, while more aid trucks were allowed to enter.

The evacuations took place as international concern intensified over the humanitarian cost of Israel’s military onslaught against Hamas targets in the enclave. Jordan, Colombia and Chile recalled their ambassadors to Israel in protest at the civilian death toll, while Bolivia severed diplomatic relations with Israel altogether.

Israel launched its bombardment of the Hamas-controlled territory in the wake of the group’s attack on Israel, which killed approximately 1,400 people, according to Israeli officials.

Israel’s bombardment has killed at least 8,800 people in Gaza and injured about 22,240, according to Palestinian officials. Israel has also severely restricted supplies of electricity, water, fuel and food to Gaza, prompting UN officials to warn of a human catastrophe in the enclave.

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