Israel will begin daily four-hour pauses in the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday to enable Palestinians to flee hostilities in the coastal enclave, the White House said after President Joe Biden said he had sought pauses of three days or more.
White House spokesman John Kirby announced the pauses and the opening of two humanitarian corridors in northern Gaza to allow Palestinians to seek safety from Israel’s military operations.
Biden told reporters as he left the White House he had sought a longer pause. “Yes,” he said. “I’ve asked for a pause longer than three days.”
Asked if he was frustrated with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Biden said, “It’s taken a little longer than I hoped.”
The pauses emerged from discussions between U.S and Israeli officials in recent days, including talks Biden had with Netanyahu, Kirby told reporters.
Biden faces intense pressure from a number of human rights groups to do more to help Palestinians who are dying by the thousands under an Israeli bombardment.
Israel has not agreed to any ceasefires, but will continue to allow brief, localised pauses to let in humanitarian aid, the Israeli military said on Thursday.
“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,” Kirby said.
The pauses would allow people to get out of harm’s way and for deliveries of humanitarian aid and could be used as a way to get hostages out of Gaza.
Palestinian Hamas gunmen killed 1,400 people and took 240 hostage during an Oct. 7 incursion into Israel, Israel has said. Israeli has responded with an air bombardment and ground invasion seeking to oust the Islamist group from Gaza.
Palestinian officials said 10,812 Gaza residents had been killed as of Thursday.
In Doha on Thursday, the CIA and Mossad chiefs met with the Qatari prime minister to discuss the parameters of a deal for hostage releases and a pause in Hamas-Israel fighting in the Gaza Strip, a source briefed on the meeting told Reuters. The outcome of the talks was unclear.
The armed wing of the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad in Gaza is prepared to release two Israeli hostages, a woman and a boy, for humanitarian and medical reasons once appropriate measures are met, a spokesperson for the al Quds Brigades said in a recorded message on Thursday.
Kirby said the pauses could help with transitions for any hostage release, as well as for humanitarian purposes.
“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.
He called the news a step in the right direction.
“We think these are significant first steps here and obviously we want to see them continued for as long as they are needed,” he added.
Kirby said a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas militants is not in order because it would help Hamas and “legitimize what they did on Oct. 7 and we simply are not going to stand for that at this time.”
Israel is also opening two humanitarian corridors in northern Gaza, Kirby said.
The first has been opened for a few hours for several days, allowing thousands of people to reach safer areas in the south, he said. The second corridor, along a coastal road, will allow more people to reach safer areas in the south.
The United States wants to see more trucks carrying humanitarian aid get into Gaza, aiming for 150 trucks a day, Kirby said. “We need to see more soon, he said.