Israel Commits to More Limited Pauses in Gaza Strip Fighting
(Bloomberg) -- Israel said it agreed to limited pauses in fighting in the Gaza Strip so civilians can flee its war with Hamas, a description that fell short of what the US hailed as a significant agreement for daily, four-hour halts.
Israel will enact “tactical local pauses for humanitarian aid, which are limited in time and area,” Israeli army spokesperson Richard Hecht said. He played down the importance of the announcement as Israel presses ahead with a campaign against Hamas in the wake of the group’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
Hours before, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Israel had agreed to daily, four-hour pauses that would start the same day. US officials hailed the move as a major development, with one senior administration official saying it was the result of meeting last week between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“We understand that Israel will begin to implement four-hour pauses in areas of northern Gaza each day, with an announcement to be made three hours beforehand,” Kirby told reporters. “We’ve been told by the Israelis that there will be no military operations in these areas over the duration of the pause, and that this process is starting today.”
The conflicting messaging highlighted the disconnect that has emerged between the Biden and Netanyahu administrations with the war in its fifth week. Israel has launched an air and ground campaign to root out Hamas, which is labeled a terrorist organization by the US and the European Union. The Oct. 7 attack killed some 1,400 people, and Palestinian authorities say the death toll from Israel’s response in Gaza now exceeds 10,000 people.
President Joe Biden later in the day called the corridors a “step in the right direction” and said they had already enabled thousands to reach safety. Netanyahu’s office said in a statement 50,000 Gazans used the passages on Wednesday to move away from the fighting.
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But Biden, in a series of posts to X, the social media site previously known as Twitter, stressed the US wanted to see an increased flow of humanitarian supplies and assistance and said Israel had “an obligation to distinguish between terrorists and civilians and fully comply with international law.”
The president said his goal was that at least 150 trucks of aid would enter Gaza every day – up from the 106 which entered the territory on Wednesday.
In an interview with Fox News’s Special Report that was set to air later Thursday, Netanyahu denied there would be a stop in the fighting but said Israel would help civilians flee.
“The fighting continues against the Hamas enemy, the Hamas terrorists, but in specific locations for a given period, a few hours here, a few hours there, we want to facilitate a safe passage of civilians away from the zone of fighting,” Netanyahu said, according to excerpts released by Fox.
Hecht said the plan would allow civilians in Gaza to move from the territory’s north, where the heaviest fighting is taking place, to the south. He said the pauses don’t represent a shift in strategy and Israel was already taking similar action to allow people to leave the conflict zone.
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The US and its allies have been calling for such humanitarian pauses as they press Israel to avoid targeting civilians and allow aid to get to the Gaza Strip even as it proceeds with the military campaign meant to root out Hamas.
Biden spoke to Netanyahu on Monday amid efforts to secure the release of some 200 hostages seized by Hamas in the attack. Asked Thursday if he is seeking a longer-lasting halt to the fighting to secure the hostages’ release, Biden told reporters, “I’ve asked for a pause longer than three days.”
Biden acknowledged growing US consternation over Netanyahu’s resistance, saying “it’s taking a little longer than I had hoped” when reporters asked if he was frustrated Netanyahu hasn’t agreed to do what he asked.
Calls have grown in the Arab world and elsewhere for a cease-fire. Netanyahu has rejected that idea, saying Israel must root out Hamas in the wake of the attack.