The White House said on Thursday that Israel has agreed to pause military operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip for at least four hours at different times to allow for the evacuation of civilians from the conflict zone.
“We understand that Israel will begin to implement four hour pauses in areas of northern Gaza each day, with an announcement to be made three hours beforehand,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said in a briefing with 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.”
An Israeli official told The Hill that the pause is for humanitarian purposes, “to allow people to move to the south, to get food and medicine.”
President Biden has urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to “tactical pauses” to ease the deepening humanitarian crisis in the Strip, even as the president has rejected calls for a general ceasefire.
His officials say that any major pause in fighting is unlikely to be respected by Hamas, the U.S.-designated terrorist organization that controls the strip, and they support Israel’s goal to eliminate the terror group.
Still, the administration is coming under pressure to more forcefully push Israel to work towards increasing humanitarian assistance to Gaza. Calls are rising to initiate such pauses to help facilitate the exit of foreign nationals — at least 700 under the purview of the U.S. — and work toward the release of at least 240 hostages who Hamas kidnapped from Israel during its shocking terrorist attack on Oct. 7.
“Israel makes its own decisions. It’s fighting an enemy that is embedded in the civilian population,” Kirby said.
“At the same time, Israel has an obligation to fully comply with international law, and we believe these pauses are a step in the right direction, particularly to help ensure that civilians have an opportunity to reach safer areas away from the act of fighting.”
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) posted on X, formerly Twitter, that the pauses did not amount to a ceasefire, and showed video of scores of Palestinians carrying white flags trudging down sandy dirt roads against the backdrop of destroyed buildings.
The video was posted around 7:30 a.m. Eastern on Thursday.
Kirby said in the briefing that at least one corridor opened by the IDF had been operational for between four and five hours every day for the past few days.
A second route along a coastal road will allow more people to flee the area of fighting, he said, adding that the U.S. remains concerned that Hamas will discourage or prevent civilians from fleeing.
Kirby said that the Israelis engaging in such pauses could help with potential movement of unaccounted for hostages to a safer place away from the conflict zone.
At the same time, he said that more trucks with humanitarian aid are entering the strip, though fewer than a stated goal of 150 trucks a day.
The IDF posted a second video of trucks bearing the blue logo of the World Health Organization moving in the opposite direction of the fleeing people.
“That’s the goal that we want to strive for,” Kirby said.
—Updated at 11:38 a.m.