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Israel announces daily Gaza 'pause' for aid deliveries

Israel's military said Sunday it would "pause" fighting around a south Gaza route daily to facilitate aid deliveries, following months of warnings of famine in the besieged Palestinian territory.

16 June 2024, MVT 12:18
Children queue with pots to receive food aid from a kitchen at the Abu Zeitun school run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in the Jabalia camp for Palestinian refugees in the northern Gaza Strip on June 13, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (Photo by Omar AL-QATTAA / AFP)
16 June 2024, MVT 12:18

Israel's military said Sunday it would "pause" fighting around a south Gaza route daily to facilitate aid deliveries, following months of warnings of famine in the besieged Palestinian territory.

The announcement of a "local, tactical pause of military activity" during daylight hours in an area of Rafah came a day after eight Israeli soldiers were killed in a blast near the far-southern city and three more troops died elsewhere, in one of the heaviest losses for the army in its war against Hamas.

UN agencies and aid groups have repeatedly sounded the alarm of dire shortages of food and other essentials in the Gaza Strip, exacerbated by overland access restrictions and the closure of the key Rafah crossing with Egypt since Israeli forces seized it in early May.

Israel has long defended its efforts to let aid into Gaza including via its Kerem Shalom border near Rafah, blaming militants for looting supplies and humanitarian workers for failing to distribute them to civilians.

"A local, tactical pause of military activity for humanitarian purposes will take place from 8:00 am (0500 GMT) until 7:00 pm (1600 GMT) every day until further notice along the road that leads from the Kerem Shalom crossing to the Salah al-Din road and then northwards," a military statement said.

A map released by the army showed the declared humanitarian route extending until Rafah's European Hospital, about 10 kilometres (six miles) from Kerem Shalom.

AFP correspondents in Gaza said there were no reports of strikes, shelling or fighting on Sunday morning, though the military stressed in a statement there was "no cessation of hostilities in the southern Gaza Strip".

The decision, which the military said was already in effect, was part of efforts to "increase the volumes of humanitarian aid entering the Gaza Strip" following discussions with the UN and other organisations, it said.

The announcement also comes on the eve of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

The United States, which has been pressing close ally Israel as well as Hamas to agree to a ceasefire plan laid out by President Joe Biden, on Friday imposed sanctions on an extremist Israeli group for blocking and attacking Gaza-bound aid convoys.

In Gaza City, in the territory's north, "there is nothing left" to eat, said resident Umm Ahmed Abu Rass.

"What is this life?" she told AFP. "There is no fuel, no access to medical treatment... and there is no food or water."

"We want to live."

Israel to 'cling' to war goals

The military said the eight soldiers killed Saturday were hit by an explosion as they were travelling in an armoured vehicle near Rafah, where troops were engaged in fierce street battles against Palestinian militants.

Military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told a televised briefing that the blast was "apparently from an explosive device planted in the area or from the firing of an anti-tank missile".

Separately, two soldiers were killed in fighting in northern Gaza and another succumbed to wounds inflicted in recent fighting.

Saturday's losses were among the heaviest for the military since it began its ground offensive in Gaza on October 27, taking its overall toll since then to 309 deaths.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered his condolences following "this terrible loss".

In a statement, he said that "despite the heavy and unsettling price, we must cling to the goals of the war".

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas following the Palestinian group's unprecedented October 7 attack that resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized 251 hostages. Of these, 116 remain in Gaza, although the army says 41 are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,296 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the territory.

World Food Programme deputy executive director Carl Skau said recently that "with lawlessness inside the Strip... and active conflict", it has become "close to impossible to deliver the level of aid that meets the growing demands on the ground".

G7 leaders on Friday said aid agencies must be allowed to work unhindered in Gaza, calling for the "rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need".

'Wider conflict'

Egyptian, Qatari and US mediators have been pushing for a new truce since a one-week pause in November which also saw hostages released from Gaza in exchange for Palestinian prisoner held in Israeli jails, and increased aid deliveries into the Palestinian territory.

But as diplomatic efforts have stalled, fears of the war spilling over into a broader Middle East conflict have been rekindled in recent days by an escalation of tit-for-tat violence between Israel and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, a Hamas ally.

Hezbollah said intense strikes since Wednesday were retaliation for Israel's killing of one of its commanders.

Israeli forces responded with shelling, the military said, also announcing air strikes on Hezbollah infrastructure across the border.

The two top UN officials in Lebanon called on all sides to cease fire. "The danger of miscalculation leading to a sudden and wider conflict is very real," they said in a joint statement.

During a Middle East trip this week to push a Gaza truce plan, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said "the best way" to help resolve the Hezbollah-Israel violence was "a resolution of the conflict in Gaza and getting a ceasefire".

That has not happened.

Hamas has insisted on the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and a permanent ceasefire -- demands Israel has repeatedly rejected.

Blinken has said Israel backs the latest plan, but Netanyahu, whose far-right coalition partners are strongly opposed to a ceasefire, has not publicly endorsed it.

© Agence France-Presse

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