WASHINGTON — Israel has agreed to daily four-hour military pauses in northern Gaza for humanitarian purposes, the White House said yesterday, even as President Joe Biden said there was no chance of a full ceasefire.
Biden has been pressing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for longer breaks in the fighting after more than a month of war sparked by the October 7 attacks by Hamas.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the pauses were “significant steps forward” as heavy fighting took hold of Gaza City in the north of the Gaza strip.
“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 pauses would allow humanitarian aid to get into the area and allow civilians to flee the fighting, he said.
Israel had also opened up “humanitarian corridors” for the past few days that had already allowed “many thousands” of people to leave the worst-hit area of north Gaza to the south, Kirby added.
“We would like to see pauses continue for as long as humanitarian assistance is needed,” he said.
But Israeli military spokesman Richard Hecht appeared to downplay the pauses.
“It’s not a shift,” he told reporters. “These are tactical local pauses for humanitarian aid, which are limited in time and area.”
Fighting has raged since gunmen from the Islamist group Hamas poured over the Gaza border with Israel and, according to Israeli officials, killed 1,400 people and seized about 240 hostages in the worst attack in the country’s history.
Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel retaliated with an aerial bombing and ground offensive that the health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip says has killed more than 10,800 people, many of them children.
International calls for a ceasefire have mounted, as have protests, including one at the weekend which targeted the White House.
However, Biden ruled out a longer truce for now.
“None. No possibility,” Biden told reporters when asked about the chances of a ceasefire.
He said he was “still optimistic” about freeing hostages — including the fewer than 10 US citizens held in Gaza. “We’re not going to stop until we get them out.”
He later confirmed that in a call with Netanayhu that “I’ve asked for a pause longer than three days”. When asked if he was frustrated with Netanyahu, he said, “it’s taken a little longer than I hoped.”
Biden has firmly stood by key ally Israel since the attacks, visiting Israel in October and saying that Hamas cannot be allowed to remain in control of Gaza.
But he has also called on Israel to obey the “laws of war”, avoid civilian casualties, let in humanitarian aid and work on getting out the hostages.
Privately Washington has been putting pressure on Israel to rein in its offensive and to allow pauses in the fighting. This has met with Israeli resistance, particularly with Israel not wishing to give any appearance of weakness.
A senior US administration official said the deal for the pauses was sealed during a visit to Israel by Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday, followed by days of sorting out details.
Biden has meanwhile warned Iran and its ally Hezbollah against widening the conflict, but repeated attacks on US forces by Tehran’s proxies in recent weeks have raised tensions.
Asked why US warplanes had carried out fresh strikes on an Iran-linked weapons facility in eastern Syria on Wednesday, Biden said “because they struck us” and added that US forces would strike again “if we have to.” — AFP