Israel implements daily humanitarian pause in Gaza for aid deliveries

A man rides a bicycle past a devastated building at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on June 11, 2024. Photo: AFP

Israel’s military announced on Sunday a daily “pause” in fighting around a route in southern Gaza to facilitate aid deliveries, amid escalating concerns of famine in the besieged Palestinian territory.

The “local, tactical pause of military activity” during daylight hours in Rafah follows a deadly day for Israeli forces, with eight soldiers killed in a blast near the city and three more in separate incidents, marking one of the heaviest losses for the army in its conflict with Hamas militants.

UN agencies and aid groups have been warning of severe shortages of food and other essentials in Gaza, worsened by access restrictions and the closure of the Rafah crossing with Egypt since early May when Israeli forces took control.

Israel has maintained that it allows aid into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom border near Rafah, blaming militants for looting supplies and humanitarian workers for not distributing them properly to civilians.

According to a military statement, the humanitarian pause will occur daily from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm along the route from the Kerem Shalom crossing to Salah al-Din road and then northwards. A map released by the army showed the declared route extending to Rafah’s European Hospital, about 10 kilometers from Kerem Shalom.

AFP correspondents in Gaza reported no strikes or fighting on Sunday morning, though the military emphasized there was “no cessation of hostilities in the southern Gaza Strip.” The military stated the pause aims to “increase the volumes of humanitarian aid entering the Gaza Strip” following discussions with the UN and other organizations.

This decision comes on the eve of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. The United States has been pressing Israel and Hamas for a ceasefire, with President Joe Biden’s administration recently sanctioning an extremist Israeli group for attacking Gaza-bound aid convoys.

In Gaza City, northern Gaza resident Umm Ahmed Abu Rass lamented the dire conditions, saying, “There is nothing left to eat… no fuel, no medical treatment, and no food or water. We want to live.”

Heavy Military Losses and Continued Conflict

The military reported that the eight soldiers killed on Saturday were struck by an explosion while traveling in an armored vehicle near Rafah, likely caused by an explosive device or anti-tank missile. Additionally, two soldiers died in northern Gaza fighting, and another succumbed to wounds from recent clashes.

Since the ground offensive began on October 27, Israel’s military has suffered significant losses, with 309 soldiers dead. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed condolences and reinforced the commitment to the war’s goals despite the heavy toll.

Israel’s offensive aims to destroy Hamas following the group’s unprecedented October 7 attack, which killed 1,194 people, mostly civilians, and saw 251 hostages taken, 116 of whom remain in Gaza.

The retaliatory offensive has resulted in the deaths of at least 37,296 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.

The World Food Programme has highlighted the challenges of delivering aid amid the conflict, with deputy executive director Carl Skau noting the “close to impossible” task due to lawlessness and active conflict.

G7 leaders have called for unhindered work by aid agencies in Gaza and the rapid passage of humanitarian relief.

Diplomatic Efforts and Regional Tensions

Mediators from Egypt, Qatar, and the US are pushing for a new truce following a one-week pause in November, which saw hostages released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners and increased aid deliveries. However, diplomatic efforts have stalled, and fears of a broader Middle East conflict have grown with escalating violence between Israel and Hezbollah, a Hamas ally in Lebanon.

Hezbollah’s recent strikes were in retaliation for Israel’s killing of one of its commanders, with Israel responding with shelling and airstrikes on Hezbollah infrastructure. UN officials in Lebanon have called for a ceasefire to prevent a wider conflict.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during a Middle East trip, emphasized that resolving the conflict in Gaza and achieving a ceasefire is the best way to address the violence between Israel and Hezbollah. However, Hamas demands a complete Israeli withdrawal and permanent ceasefire, conditions Israel has rejected.

While Blinken stated that Israel supports the latest truce plan, Prime Minister Netanyahu has not publicly endorsed it, facing opposition from his far-right coalition partners.