Israel agrees to 4-hour military ‘pause’ in Gaza, US says

Israel has agreed to daily four-hour pauses in northern Gaza to let civilians flee, the White House said Thursday, even as President Joe Biden said there was no chance of a full ceasefire.

Biden has been pressing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for longer breaks in the fighting after more than a month of war sparked by the October 7 attacks by Hamas.

Israeli troops and Hamas are now locked in heavy, close-quarters fighting in Gaza City in the north of the Gaza Strip.

“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 spokesman John Kirby told 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.”

Fighting has raged since gunmen from the Islamist group Hamas poured over the Gaza border with Israel and, according to Israeli officials, killed 1,400 people and seized about 240 hostages in the worst attack in the country’s history.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel retaliated with an aerial bombing and ground offensive that the health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip says has killed more than 10,500 people, many of them children.

International calls for a ceasefire have mounted, as have protests, including one at the weekend which targeted the White House. However, Biden ruled out a longer truce for now.

“None. No possibility,” Biden told reporters as he left the White House for a trip to Illinois when asked about the chances of a ceasefire.

He later confirmed that in a call with Netanayhu that “I’ve asked for a pause longer than three days”.

When asked if he was frustrated with Netanyahu, he said, “it’s taken a little longer than I hoped.”

Biden did not mention the four-hour pauses that the White House announced.

The United States has firmly stood by key ally Israel since the attacks, saying that Hamas cannot be allowed to remain in control of Gaza.

But Washington has also been publicly calling on the Israeli military to obey the “laws of war” and avoid civilian casualties, while privately pushing Israel to scale back its offensive and to develop a plan for what comes next.

Israel has pressed on and has encircled northern Gaza in recent days. It said Thursday it had fought a 10-hour battle that toppled one of the Palestinian militants’ strongholds.

The army said 50,000 people had fled their homes in the main battle zone of northern Gaza on Wednesday, a sharp increase in numbers from earlier this week, adding to the more than 1.5 million people already seeking safety in the south of the coastal strip.