Israel has agreed to begin daily four-hour pauses in fighting in northern Gaza to allow people to flee hostilities, the White House has announced, in what it called a step in the right direction.
US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the first humanitarian pause would be announced on Thursday, adding that Israel had committed to announcing each four-hour window at least three hours in advance.
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“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,” Kirby said.
US President Joe Biden told reporters that he had asked Israel for a “pause longer than three days” during negotiations over the release of some captives being held by Palestinian group Hamas, but he ruled out the chances of a general ceasefire.
Kirby made clear that there would be no ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, saying it would help the Palestinian group “legitimise what they did” on October 7, “and we simply are not going to stand for that at this time”.
Biden had asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to institute the daily pauses during a call on Monday.
Biden, when asked if he was frustrated by Netanyahu over the delays in instituting humanitarian pauses, said, “It’s taken a little longer than I hoped.”
Meanwhile, Israel said it has not agreed to any ceasefires, but will continue to allow brief, localised pauses to let in humanitarian aid.
“There’s no ceasefire, I repeat there’s no ceasefire. What we are doing, that four-hour window, these are tactical, local pauses for humanitarian aid,” Israeli military spokesperson Richard Hecht said.
Taher al-Nono, a political adviser to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, said on Thursday that unspecified negotiations were continuing and no deal had been reached with Israel so far.
He gave no more detail in a statement posted on the group’s Telegram channel.
Reporting from Washington, DC, Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett said these pauses “will allow for the potential release of captives that Hamas is currently holding … and for medicine and food to get in and for those living inside Gaza who have dual nationality to get out”.
“The United States also said it aims to get 150 aid trucks in Gaza daily,” she added.
At least 10,812 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza since October 7. In Israel, the death toll over the same period stands at more than 1,400.
A spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said any humanitarian pauses should be done in coordination with the United Nations to be most effective.
Stephane Dujarric added that “obviously, in order for this to be done safely for humanitarian purposes, it would have to be agreed with all parties to the conflict to be truly effective.”
‘Pause is meaningless’
Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, called the US announcement a distraction.
“There’s an unravelling genocide in Gaza and we’re talking about some humanitarian pause, which is absolutely meaningless. [What] we should be focused on is the ongoing genocide, the ongoing killing, the ongoing expulsion, the ongoing ethnic cleansing, the mass slaughter of children,” Bishara said.
“This is the thing that’s going on while Mr Biden [is] and Mr Netanyahu is wasting everyone’s time about some four-hour humanitarian pause.”
Bishara added that the discourse has highlighted how unable – and unwilling – the Biden administration has been to pressure the Israeli government to end the conflict.
“I think it doesn’t have the will and I think it doesn’t want to seem like, in Washington, there’s daylight between the United States and Israel,” he said. “And because this administration has widely and foolishly, in my opinion, boxed itself in behind Netanyahu, and now is finding it difficult to distance itself without looking foolish.”
The US announcement has fallen woefully short of the needs in Gaza, Abdel Hamid Siyam, a Middle East expert at Rutgers University, told Al Jazeera.
“Pauses are not a solution,” he said, adding that what is needed is a “ceasefire so that humanitarian aid can come in uninterrupted, that foreigners can leave the country, and maybe negotiations can take place”.
“If this is only a pause to allow people to move from the north to south, it did not work in the past, it will not work in the future,” he said. “In four hours, people cannot come. They don’t have cars, they don’t have fuel. It’s not going to work.”
“There is mounting pressure on Israel now to open up for a real ceasefire, a real truce for a day or two or three. I think that is coming in the next few days,” he said.
Negotiations over captives
Indirect talks were taking place in Qatar – which also played a role in the freeing of four captives by Hamas last month – about a larger release of hostages.
CIA Director William Burns was in Doha on Thursday to discuss efforts to win the release of captives in Gaza, with the Qatari prime minister and the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, according to a US official.
Burns met Mossad chief David Barnea and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, said the official, who talked to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters. Qatar is a frequent go-between in international dealings with Hamas.