US President Joe Biden calls for 'pause' in Israel-Gaza conflict

Wafaa Abouyzada, Abood Okal and their son, Yousef
The Okal family from Massachusetts are trapped in Gaza but may leave on Thursday

US President Joe Biden has called for a "pause" in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The president was making a campaign speech in Minneapolis when a heckler urged him to call for a ceasefire.

"I think we need a pause," he replied, saying that it would allow for hostages to get out.

An unconfirmed number of American citizens left Gaza on Wednesday, as part of the first group to depart since war broke out. Another 400 are on a list to leave on Thursday.

The Okals, a suburban Massachusetts family, were visiting relatives in Gaza when the conflict began. They are among those on the list provided by Gaza's border authority.

Family friend Sammy Nabulsi told the BBC that Abood Okal, Wafaa Abuzayda and their one-year-old son, Yousef, have been living in "dire and dangerous" circumstances.

There are no Canadians on the list on Wednesday or on the list for Thursday. Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said there were 400 Canadian citizens, mostly dual nationals, trapped in Gaza.

Israel has been bombing Gaza since the 7 October Hamas attacks that killed 1,400 people and saw 239 people taken hostage.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says more than 9,000 people have been killed since Israel's retaliatory bombing began.

More on Israel-Gaza war

In Wednesday's speech, the president said a pause would "give time to get the prisoners out".

White House officials later explained he had meant both getting hostages held by Hamas out and humanitarian aid in, the Associated Press reports.

The UN has urged a ceasefire to ease the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, where 1.4 million people are estimated to have been displaced.

But the UK, US, Canada and EU have stopped short of calling for a ceasefire, saying it would favour Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organisation by the US and several Western governments.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, new House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson, one of the most powerful Republicans in US government, firmly rejected the idea of a ceasefire.

"Israel doesn't need a ceasefire," he said. "It needs its allies to cease with the politics and deliver support now, and that's what we're doing."

Mr Johnson said the House would vote later on Thursday on a $14.3bn (£11.7bn) aid package for Israel.

Democrats oppose the bill because it also contains steep cuts in funding for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and they are expected to block it in the Senate. Even then, President Biden has said he will veto the legislation if the version that reaches his desk includes cuts to the tax collection agency.