The White House said Thursday Israel would start to implement four-hour daily “pauses” in its military operations against Hamas in areas of northern Gaza.
The pauses would give Palestinian civilians time to escape using two open humanitarian passages and should help to reduce the number of civilian deaths, National Security Council press officer John Kirby said.
The announcement by came as the Israel Defense Forces battled Hamas militants in Gaza City and more Palestinian civilians fled the area.
“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,” Kirby said during a call with reporters, adding that the idea for pauses came up in discussions between U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Fox News on Thursday that Israel is not interested in conquering, occupying or governing Gaza.
The Israeli leader is also not interested in a cease-fire. “A cease-fire with Hamas means surrender,” he said.
Earlier this week, the Israeli leader said that Israel would be in charge of Gaza’s security, without giving details of what that would look like.
On Thursday, Netanyahu told Fox that a “credible force” should be installed in Gaza to prevent militant threats, like the Hamas attacks in Israel.
“So, we have to have credible force that, if necessary, will enter Gaza and kill the killers. Because that’s what will prevent the reemergence of a Hamas-like entity,” the Israeli prime minister said.
He said the territory needs to be “demilitarized, deradicalized and rebuilt.”
Israel launched its offensive in response to Hamas’ October 7 terror attack in southern Israel that killed more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians. Hamas also took about 240 people hostage.
The U.S., U.K., EU and other countries in the West have designated Hamas a terrorist organization, which means that it is illegal for their citizens to show support for Hamas.
David Satterfield, the U.S. special envoy for Middle East humanitarian issues, told reporters that he hopes the brief pauses will also help in the evacuation of wounded civilians and foreign nationals.
“But again, all that we are doing now is a beginning, and we understand that much more will need to be done and will be — need to be done promptly,” he said.
A U.N. spokesperson said the United Nations is seeking more information on the announcement.
“How any such halt in the fighting and how it would work for humanitarian purposes would need to be coordinated with the United Nations, especially on the issues of timing and locations,” Stephane Dujarric told reporters. “For it to be done safely for humanitarian purposes, it would have to be agreed with all parties to the conflict to be truly effective.”
Emanuela-Chiara Gillard, a Chatham House associate fellow in international law, said Thursday that while it is a positive development, any humanitarian cease-fire or pause would have a better chance of success if it were agreed to by both the IDF and Hamas, preferably in writing with a third-party mediator.
“It is a unilateral arrangement, so we don’t see any of the modalities for ensuring compliance with the arrangement,” she said at an event on the conflict.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says Israeli attacks have killed more than 10,800 people, two-thirds of them women and children. There is no way to independently verify those numbers, though the U.N. says the ministry’s numbers have been reliable in the past.
Speaking at an international conference in Paris Thursday, the head of the U.N. agency that assists Palestinians, UNRWA, said Israel’s response to the “horrendous massacre” committed by Hamas must not disregard international humanitarian law and promote dehumanizing rhetoric.
“Thousands of children killed cannot be ‘collateral damage,’ ” Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini said. “Pushing a million people from their homes and concentrating them in areas without adequate infrastructure is forced displacement. Severely limiting food, water and medicine is collective punishment.”
As hostilities intensify in northern Gaza, the U.N. says that since Israel first opened a single evacuation corridor on Sunday, at least 80,000 people have evacuated the area — most of them on foot.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said 50,000 people fled south along the main road connecting north and south Gaza on Wednesday during a five-hour Israeli-initiated pause. Humanitarians are providing the evacuees with water and food just south of the line separating north and south.
Conditions have been growing more dire in the north, which has been out of reach of aid deliveries for the past week.
The U.N. said Al Quds hospital in Gaza City had to shut down key services Wednesday, largely due to a lack of fuel. Al Awda hospital, the only provider of maternity services in northern Gaza, has warned it may soon close. And as of Tuesday, there were no bakeries operating in the north due to a lack of fuel, water, wheat flour and damage to their premises.
Meanwhile, in southern Gaza, U.N. shelters are overcrowded with about two-thirds of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents displaced. At one shelter in Khan Younis housing 22,000 displaced Palestinians, the U.N. says at least 600 people are sharing a single toilet.
Only 756 aid trucks with food, water, medicine and hygiene items have reached Gaza since Israel eased its full siege on October 21.
U.S. envoy Satterfield said Washington is working to increase the supply of clean water.
“Two pipelines from Israel have been turned back on,” he told reporters. “The desalination plant and its satellite facilities in south and central Gaza are functioning because of our work to get fuel flows restored via UNRWA to those places.”
He said Washington is working to ensure that that UNRWA can replenish its fuel supplies “in a secure and timely fashion.”
The World Health Organization told VOA that 120 wounded and 12 Palestinian children with cancer, and 1,738 third-country nationals, including 384 children, had been evacuated from Gaza to Egypt trough the Rafah crossing as of Wednesday.
The war is also having grave economic implications for an already struggling Palestinian economy. A new U.N. report assessing the socio-economic impact of the war said that the entire Palestinian economy has suffered a 4% GDP loss in the first month of fighting, and that if the war continues, it could face a 12% GDP loss by the end of this year.
“Just to give you a comparison, Ukraine lost 30% of GDP in one-and-a-half years of fighting,” Abdallah Al Dardari, assistant secretary-general and director of regional bureau for Arab states at the U.N. Development Program, told reporters Thursday. “To lose 12% of GDP in 3 months is massive and unprecedented.”
Sources: VOA. U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed reporting for this report. Some information for this article was also provided by The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.