Israel to pause fighting along southern route in Gaza to ease aid blockage

A UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in the Jabalia camp in the northern Gaza Strip on June 13, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (Photo: AFP)
A UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in the Jabalia camp in the northern Gaza Strip on June 13, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (Photo: AFP)

Summary

The announcement of daily humanitarian pauses during daylight hours comes after one of the deadliest days for Israel during the eight-month-old war.

Israel said it would pause fighting along a strategic route in southern Gaza each day to facilitate the distribution of humanitarian aid, seeking to address security issues raised by aid groups and demonstrating Israel’s growing hold over the territory.

The United Nations agency most involved with Gaza said it was hopeful the pauses would improve its ability to deliver aid throughout the enclave.

The announcement of daily humanitarian pauses during daylight hours comes a day after Israel announced 11 soldiers had been killed in Gaza, eight in a single incident in the southern city of Rafah, on Saturday, one of the deadliest days for Israel during the eight-month-old war.

This is the first time Israel has announced a daily pause in fighting in certain areas of Gaza since last November. Still, the army said fighting elsewhere in Rafah and the rest of the enclave would continue.

Since the start of the Rafah operation, aid organizations have said the fighting and lack of security there have made aid delivery and distribution treacherous. Despite an increase in aid and commercial trucks into Gaza from earlier this year, aid groups say Gazans are still lacking basic necessities.

There is largely no meat available in Gaza, dampening celebrations of Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday marked by the slaughtering of goats and sheep that began Sunday.

Haneen Samir, 32, a mother of three living in Gaza City, said that the humanitarian situation is terrible and that they live in “a real famine."

Her family doesn’t have any canned food, hasn’t eaten meat for months and gets by mostly on bread and ground thyme, she said. “Today is the first day of the Al-Adha feast, and no one in the area sacrificed any animal," Samir said.

Gaza City is located in the enclave’s northern district, where aid groups have had the hardest time operating.

Israel’s military said Sunday that starting this weekend, it would halt fighting along a route that begins at Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing into the enclave, cuts through southern Rafah up to Salah-a-Din street, a key north-south road used to deliver aid across the enclave.

The pause will take place daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and came about through discussion with the U.N. and aid groups, the army said. The pauses will continue until further notice, an Israeli military spokesperson said.

“We’re hopeful that this pause, which we thank Israel for putting in place, will allow us to move freely in and out of the crossing and bring in much-needed aid for the population," said Scott Anderson, the director of affairs in Gaza for Unrwa, the U.N. agency that deals with Palestinian refugees and is the major humanitarian player in the enclave, in an interview with CNN on Sunday.

The Kerem Shalom crossing has become the key conduit for aid into Gaza after Israel took control of the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza in early May. Since then, Egypt has prohibited the use of the Rafah crossing, saying it would renew operations there only once it is returned to Palestinian control, despite efforts involving U.S. officials to negotiate the reopening.

Humanitarian aid into Gaza rose to more than 5,600 trucks in April from around 2,900 in February, according to U.N. data, although humanitarian workers said that deliveries often fell short of what the war-ravaged enclave needed.

Palestinian families say they are again struggling with a shortage of aid and food and that their situation is being exacerbated by having to be on the move. More than a million people have left Rafah since the start of May, the U.N. says, when Israel began operations there.

Israel says that it has allowed hundreds of trucks into Gaza each day recently and blames the U.N. for not picking up the aid. It also says hundreds of trucks have accumulated on the Gaza side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing as a result.

Anderson, the Unrwa director, acknowledged the backup of trucks at the crossing and said he hoped Hamas and other armed groups would respect the pauses in fighting to allow for their distribution.

The aid corridor in southern Gaza is located in areas where Israel established control at the start of its operations in Rafah.

Eight of the 11 Israeli soldiers killed over the weekend died in Rafah after their armored vehicle was attacked and exploded. The military is still investigating how Hamas carried out such a successful attack on the armored vehicle, which was carrying explosive material.

The deadly attack points to the effective nature of Hamas’s guerrilla warfare and the challenge facing Israel if it intends to keep a permanent presence in the area.

Israel has so far concentrated its operations in Rafah along the border with Egypt, known as the Philadelphi corridor. Israel says the area was a key weapons smuggling route for Hamas and that it is currently destroying the underground tunnels the arms moved through.

Michael Horowitz, the Israel-based head of intelligence for the consulting firm Le Beck, said the operation in Rafah is “kind of winding down" and Israel was focused on creating a buffer zone for its forces who may be stationed along the Philadelphi corridor for the foreseeable future.

Israel hasn’t carried out sustained or large-scale operations in the more densely populated urban areas of Rafah. The Biden administration has cautioned Israel against doing so.

Write to Dov Lieber at dov.lieber@wsj.com

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