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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Israel agrees to daily combat pauses to let civilians flee, White House says

Israeli military personnel and tanks with a unit that a small group of journalists were permitted to accompany in northern Gaza for a few hours on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023.

By Peter Baker

Israel has agreed to put in place regular daily four-hour pauses in its relentless assault on Hamas in selected areas of the northern Gaza Strip to allow civilians to flee, the White House announced Thursday, culminating days of pressure from President Joe Biden as the casualty toll mounts.

The agreement formalizes and expands on what Israel has been doing in recent days as its forces have allowed people to evacuate northern Gaza for several hours at a time along a single corridor south. The White House said a second corridor for evacuations would be opened along a coastal road and that the daily pauses would be institutionalized to include advance notice of at least three hours.

“We have 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,” John Kirby, a White House spokesperson, told reporters on a conference call. “These are good steps in the right direction,” he added, saying the White House hoped the pauses would continue “for as long as they’re needed.”

Kirby said the daily pauses would not only provide a greater opportunity for civilians to escape the fighting but also permit the delivery of more humanitarian supplies and possibly facilitate the release of some of the more than 200 hostages held by Hamas, including a handful of Americans. He noted that 106 trucks of humanitarian aid crossed into Gaza on Wednesday, toward a U.S. goal of 150 trucks a day.

“We need to see more and need to see more soon,” he said.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement that his country’s forces were permitting safe passage to the south of Gaza, adding that 50,000 Palestinians had taken that route on Wednesday alone. “The fighting continues and there will be no cease-fire without the release of our hostages,” the statement said, adding, “We once again call on the civilian population of Gaza to evacuate to the south.”

Israeli authorities seemed most intent on making clear that the pauses were limited in time and area, not a broader, sustained halt in their military operations meant to dismantle Hamas. “There is no cease-fire,” the Israeli military wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “There are tactical, local pauses for humanitarian aid for Gazan civilians.” The military added: “Our war is with Hamas and not with the people of Gaza.”

The announcement of the daily pauses in two corridors came after days of efforts by Biden and his team to persuade Israel to do more to minimize civilian casualties. Biden asked Netanyahu during a call Monday to pause its assault on Hamas. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed the case during a visit to the region, and other officials, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, lobbied their counterparts.

“I’ve asked for a pause longer than three days,” Biden told reporters Thursday before a trip to Illinois. Asked if he was frustrated that Netanyahu took so long to agree, the president hinted at some impatience. “It’s taken a little longer than I hoped,” he said. As for the fate of the hostages, he said, “We’re still optimistic.”

But Biden has not joined the calls by some in his party and around the world for a full cease-fire, reasoning that Israel has a legitimate interest in destroying Hamas after its Oct. 7 terrorist attack killed more than 1,400 people. He ruled out the prospect of a cease-fire again Thursday, saying: “None. No possibility.”

Kirby argued that a cease-fire would not be wise, saying that “Hamas benefits from it.”

“Frankly, a cease-fire at this time would in all practicality legitimize what they did on Oct. 7, and we simply aren’t going to stand for that at this time,” Kirby said.

He made a point of expressing sympathy for Israel’s military challenge in taking on Hamas while avoiding civilian casualties.

“It’s fighting an enemy that is embedded in the civilian population, using hospitals and civilian infrastructure in an effort to shield itself from accountability and to place the innocent Palestinian people at greater risk,” Kirby said. “At the same time, Israel has an obligation to fully comply with international law. And we believe these pauses are a step in the right direction, particularly to help ensure that civilians have an opportunity to reach safer areas away from the act of fighting.”

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