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Israel announces ‘tactical pause’ in southern Gaza fighting to ease aid backlog

Israel’s military has said it will suspend fighting during daytime hours along a route in southern Gaza to free up a backlog of humanitarian aid deliveries (Jehad Alshrafi/AP)
Israel’s military has said it will suspend fighting during daytime hours along a route in southern Gaza to free up a backlog of humanitarian aid deliveries (Jehad Alshrafi/AP)

Israel’s military announced on Sunday that it will suspend fighting during daytime hours along a route in southern Gaza to free up a backlog of humanitarian aid deliveries destined for desperate Palestinians enduring a humanitarian crisis sparked by the war, now in its ninth month.

The “tactical pause” announced by the military, which applies to about 7.4 miles (12km) of road in the Rafah area, falls far short of a complete ceasefire in the beleaguered territory that has been sought by the international community, including Israel’s top ally, the United States.

If it holds, the limited halt in fighting could help address some of the overwhelming needs of Palestinians that have surged even more in recent weeks with Israel’s incursion into Rafah.

The army said the pause will begin at 8am (0500 GMT) and remain in effect until 7pm (1600 GMT) and will apply every day until further notice.

CORRECTION Israel Palestinians Eid Al-Adha
A Palestinian boy receives his portion of food aid ahead of the Eid al-Adha holiday in Jerusalem (Jehad Alshrafi/AP)

The move is aimed at allowing aid trucks to reach the nearby Israel-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing, the main entry point for incoming aid, and travel safely to the Salah a-Din highway, a main north-south road, the military said.

The crossing has suffered from a bottleneck since Israeli ground troops moved into Rafah in early May.

Cogat, the Israeli military body that oversees aid distribution in Gaza, said the route will increase the flow of aid to other parts of Gaza, including Khan Younis, Muwasi and central Gaza.

Hard-hit northern Gaza, which was an early target in the war, is being served by goods entering from a crossing in the north.

The military said the suspension, which begins as Muslims in Gaza and elsewhere start marking the major Eid Al-Adha holiday, came after discussions with the United Nations and international aid agencies.

Following criticism over the move from ultranationalists in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, who oppose a halt in the war, the military said fighting is not being paused in the rest of southern Gaza, nor is there any change regarding the entry of aid in general.

Aid agencies, including the UN, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

CORRECTION Israel Palestinians Eid Al-Adha
Palestinians collect food aid in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip (Jehad Alshrafi/AP)

Scott Anderson, Gaza affairs director for the UN agency for Palestinians, told CNN he hopes the move will “bring in much-needed aid for the population”.

The pause along the southern route comes as Israel and Hamas are weighing the latest proposal for a ceasefire, a plan that was detailed by President Joe Biden in the administration’s most concentrated diplomatic push for a halt to the fighting and the release of hostages taken by the militant group.

While Mr Biden described the proposal as an Israeli one, Israel has not fully embraced it and Hamas has demanded changes that appear unacceptable to Israel.

The fighting continues unabated, and on Sunday Israel announced the names of a total of 11 soldiers killed in recent attacks in Gaza, including one who died from injuries suffered in an assault last week.

That puts the number of soldiers killed since Israel began its ground invasion of Gaza last year at 308.

Hamas killed 1,200 people during its October 7 attack and took 250 others hostage, Israeli authorities say. Health officials in Hamas-run Gaza say more than 37,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war.

Israel’s eight-month military offensive against Hamas, sparked by the militant group’s October 7 attack, has plunged Gaza into a humanitarian crisis, with the UN reporting widespread hunger and hundreds of thousands of people on the brink of famine.

United States Gaza Aid
Trucks loaded with humanitarian aid cross the Trident Pier to the Gaza Strip (Staff Sgt Malcolm Cohens-Ashley/US Army/AP)

The international community has urged Israel to do more to ease the crunch and has said the ongoing fighting, including in Rafah, has complicated aid deliveries throughout the war.

From May 6 until June 6, the UN received an average of 68 trucks of aid a day, according to figures from the UN humanitarian office, known as Ocha. That was down from 168 a day in April and far below the 500 trucks a day that aid groups say are needed.

The flow of aid in southern Gaza declined just as the humanitarian need grew.

More than one million Palestinians, many of whom had already been displaced, fled Rafah after the invasion, crowding into other parts of southern and central Gaza. Most now languish in ramshackle tent camps, using trenches as latrines, with open sewage in the streets.

Cogat says there are no restrictions on the entry of trucks, and that more than 8,600 trucks of all kinds, both aid and commercial, entered Gaza from all crossings from May 2 to June 13, an average of 201 a day.

However, much of that aid has piled up at the crossings and not reached its final destination.

Cogat spokesman Shimon Freedman said it is the UN’s fault that its cargos stacked up on the Gaza side of Kerem Shalom. He said the agencies have “fundamental logistical problems that they have not fixed”, especially a lack of trucks.

The UN denies such allegations, saying the fighting between Israel and Hamas often makes it too dangerous for UN trucks inside Gaza to travel to Kerem Shalom, which is right next to Israel’s border.

It also says the pace of deliveries has been slowed because the Israeli military must authorise drivers to travel to the site, a system Israel says was designed for the drivers’ safety.

Due to a lack of security, in some cases aid trucks have also been looted by crowds as they moved along Gaza’s roads.

The new arrangement aims to reduce the need for co-ordinating deliveries by providing an 11-hour uninterrupted window each day for trucks to move in and out of the crossing.

It was not immediately clear whether the army would provide security to protect the aid trucks as they moved along the highway.