Israel announces daily Gaza 'pause' for aid deliveries - RTHK
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Israel announces daily Gaza 'pause' for aid deliveries

2024-06-17 HKT 02:46
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  • Gazans hold Eid al-Adha prayers by the ruins of the Al-Rahma mosque. Photo: Reuters
    Gazans hold Eid al-Adha prayers by the ruins of the Al-Rahma mosque. Photo: Reuters
Israel's military said on Sunday it would "pause" fighting around a south Gaza route daily to facilitate aid deliveries, following months of warnings of famine in the besieged Palestinian territory.

The announcement of a "local, tactical pause of military activity" during daylight hours in an area of Rafah came a day after eight Israeli soldiers were killed in a blast near the far-southern city and three more troops died elsewhere, in one of the heaviest losses for the army in its war against Hamas militants.

The United Nations welcomed the Israeli move, although "this has yet to translate into more aid reaching people in need," said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA, calling for "further concrete measures" on aid needs.

He said Gazans "urgently need food, water, sanitation, shelter, and healthcare, with many living near piles of solid waste, heightening health risks."

"We need to be able to deliver aid safely throughout Gaza."

UN agencies and aid groups have repeatedly sounded the alarm of dire shortages of food and other essentials in the Gaza Strip, exacerbated by overland access restrictions and the closure of the key Rafah crossing with Egypt since Israeli forces seized the Palestinian side in early May.

Israel has long defended its efforts to let aid into Gaza including via its Kerem Shalom border near Rafah, blaming militants for looting supplies and humanitarian workers for failing to distribute them to civilians.

"A local, tactical pause of military activity for humanitarian purposes will take place from 8.00am (0500 GMT) until 7.00pm (1600 GMT) every day until further notice along the road that leads from the Kerem Shalom crossing to the Salah al-Din road and then northwards," a military statement said.

A map released by the army showed the declared humanitarian route extending until Rafah's European Hospital, about 10 kilometres from Kerem Shalom.

The announcement came as Muslims worldwide mark Eid al-Adha, but there is little to celebrate in Gaza.

"There is no joy. We have been robbed of it," said Malakiya Salman, a 57-year-old displaced woman, now living in a tent in Khan Younis city in the southern Gaza Strip.

Gazans, like Muslims the world over, would usually slaughter sheep for the holiday – whose Arabic name means "feast of the sacrifice" – and share the meat with the needy.

Parents would also gift children new clothes and money in celebration.

Eyewitnesses in Gaza's north and centre reported no fighting on Sunday morning, though there was some shelling and at least one strike in Rafah.

The military stressed in a statement there was "no cessation of hostilities in the southern Gaza Strip."

The military said the pause was already in effect and part of efforts to "increase the volumes of humanitarian aid" following discussions with the UN and other organisations.

The United States, which has been pressing close ally Israel as well as Hamas to accept a ceasefire plan laid out by President Joe Biden, on Friday imposed sanctions on an extremist Israeli group for blocking and attacking Gaza-bound aid convoys.

The military said the eight soldiers killed on Saturday were hit by an explosion as they were travelling in an armoured vehicle near Rafah, where troops were engaged in fierce street battles against Palestinian militants.

Military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said the blast was "apparently from an explosive device planted in the area or from the firing of an anti-tank missile."

Separately, two soldiers were killed in fighting in northern Gaza and another succumbed to wounds inflicted in recent fighting.

Saturday's losses brought the Israeli military's overall toll to 309 deaths since it began its its ground offensive in Gaza on October 27.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered his condolences following "this terrible loss" and said that "despite the heavy and unsettling price, we must cling to the goals of the war."

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas following the Palestinian group's unprecedented October 7 attack that resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to a tally based on Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized 251 hostages. Of these, 116 remain in Gaza, although the army says 41 are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,337 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory. (AFP)

Israel announces daily Gaza 'pause' for aid deliveries