Israel has agreed to daily four-hour humanitarian breaks in areas of northern Gaza, as US officials announced on Thursday. The pauses, intended to allow civilians to safely leave for southern Gaza, come amid a deepening humanitarian crisis as Israel continues to bombard one of the most densely populated places in the planet.
The windows have so far allowed 100,000 people to move, according to Israeli officials – but it is unclear whether the safe routes and breaks will be enough, as more than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed and calls for a ceasefire are becoming stronger and stronger.
The new deal is the result of US pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with National Security Council spokesman John Kirby telling reporters the new policy was due to “personal leadership and diplomacy” of President Joe Biden. But Biden apparently was unable to secure the longer ceasefire he sought to secure the release of the hostages, Politico reported Thursday. The United States continues to provide military aid to Israel, as it has for decades, and Biden has requested an additional $14.3 billion to fund Iron Dome and other air and missile defense systems.
U.S. officials expect the daily pauses will also increase humanitarian aid to Gaza, as residents have received only a fraction of essential goods through aid organizations like they did it before the war. Israel has had a blockade on Gaza for 16 years, since Hamas took control of the territory, and food, medicine and fuel are provided by the United Nations and other agencies.
Although the breaks provide some security for people fleeing Israeli operations in northern Gaza, the overall humanitarian crisis remains overwhelming. More than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in the past month of fighting in Gaza, and supplies of food, drinking water and fuel are dangerously limited in the south, where some 2 million people are expected to seek refuge. while Israel continues its war. against Hamas.
Over the past three weeks, Israel has carried out night raids and bombing campaigns in northern Gaza before launching a staged attack. The Israeli military announced earlier this week that it had surrounded Gaza City, the northern population center that it considers the center of Hamas operations.
On Friday, just a day after the humanitarian pauses were announced, fighting broke out around hospitals in Gaza City, including at al-Shifa Hospital, where hundreds of seriously ill and injured patients are being treated and thousands civilians have found refuge, which puts them in danger. in serious danger and casts doubt on the effectiveness of humanitarian pauses.
Get people out, help in
Israel initially gave the approximately 1 million people living in the northern part of the Gaza Strip 24 hours to evacuate to the south so it could prepare to carry out military operations there, including launching airstrikes and destroying tunnels. used by Hamas.
The initial request for evacuation, according to several humanitarian organizations, including the UN, was impossible to carry out, particularly given the ongoing fighting, poor infrastructure damaged by the previous conflict, lack of fuel for cars given the siege that Israel declared in the territory from October 9 and large numbers of people moving into one of the most densely populated places on the planet.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have moved south since that initial call for evacuation, although thousands remain, many of whom have sought refuge in hospitals like Al-Shifa near the city. from Gaza.
Details of where and when the breaks will take place are unclear, as are the number of days the breaks will take place, but Kirby told reporters Thursday that the timing of the breaks will be announced three hours before they begin each day .
Following Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s call to Gaza siege, humanitarian groups as well as governments including Qatar and the United States attempted to negotiate for aid to enter the territory via the Rafah crossing , on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt. The siege meant that no food, medicine, medical equipment, drinking water or fuel could enter the territory; electricity and, sometimes, telecommunications were also cut. Without electricity or fuel, Gaza’s water desalination plants cannot produce drinking water and hospitals can only operate at limited capacity despite the critical need for health services in a war zone.
Since October 9, negotiations have allowed the delivery of some aid – around 100 truckloads of supplies per day, according to the Special Envoy for Humanitarian Issues in the Middle East, David Satterfield, compared to around 500 per day before the war. “Now we understand that even 150 trucks per day is enough at the bare minimum to provide basic survival humanitarian assistance,” Satterfield said during a press briefing Thursday. ” There is still a lot to do. There must be restocking of the shelves with commercial products, the bakeries must reopen with everything they need in terms of supplies, cooking gas for this purpose.
Satterfield also told reporters that fuel reserves in southern and central Gaza had been made available through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and supplied water desalination facilities in southern and central Gaza, as well as two Gaza water pipelines. Israel had been restored.
Overview: Gaza is still devastated, and it’s only getting worse
In the fighting so far, more than 11,000 people have been killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry; more than 4,500 are believed to be children and more than 3,000 women, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported in a November 10 bulletin. “On average, a child is killed every 10 minutes in Gaza,” said Tedros Adhanom. Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization, said at a press briefing Friday in the UN Security Council.
IDF airstrikes and operations remain the leading cause of death and casualties; Although the military claims to target Hamas terrorists, 90 percent of casualties are civilians when explosives are used in populated areas, according to the UN. The IDF has carried out several operations in the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza, calling it a Hamas stronghold and a “hotbed of terrorist activity,” according to IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus. “No one can claim they didn’t know this was going to happen,” he said, noting that residents had been ordered to evacuate for two weeks.
On Saturday, fighting near hospitals in Gaza, including Al-Shifa, continued, causing chaos and panic. The Israeli military ordered the evacuation of al-Shifa hospital, claiming that Hamas operates in tunnels beneath the facility, something Hamas and hospital leaders deny. Al-Shifa has around 700 beds, but currently treats 5,000 people, according to Médecins Sans Frontières. Hamas says the hospital houses around 40,000 people.
Reports of intense shelling in al-Shifa continued Friday evening and Saturday. “The situation in al-Shifa is truly catastrophic,” Ann Taylor, head of mission in the occupied Palestinian territories, said in a statement. “We call on the Israeli government to stop this relentless attack on Gaza’s health system. Our staff and patients are inside Al-Shifa Hospital where intense shelling has not stopped since yesterday. MSF staff reported constant shelling and shooting at people as they tried to leave the hospital.
“There is no siege, I repeat, no siege, against Shifa Hospital. The eastern side of the hospital is open for the safe passage of Gazans who wish to leave the hospital,” IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari said during a press briefing on Saturday.
“We speak directly and regularly with hospital staff. The staff at Shifa Hospital requested that tomorrow we help the babies from the pediatric department move to a safer hospital. We will provide the necessary assistance,” Hagari said. Two babies in the neonatal unit died after a fuel shortage at the hospital on Saturday, according to the BBC.
And although, according to the Israeli army, more than 850,000 people have so far left northern Gaza, “hundreds of thousands of people remaining in the north are struggling to survive,” OCHA reported. “Drinking water from unsafe sources raises serious concerns about dehydration and water-borne diseases. The World Food Program (WFP) has expressed concern over malnutrition and famine.
Amid the ongoing devastation, French President Emmanuel Macron called for a ceasefire in a BBC interview on Friday. “There is no other solution than a humanitarian pause first, then a ceasefire, which will allow us to protect (…) all civilians who have nothing to do with the terrorists .”