Israel agrees to 4-hour daily pauses in Gaza fighting to allow civilians to flee, White House says
WASHINGTON (AP) — Israel has agreed to put in place four-hour daily humanitarian pauses in its assault on Hamas in northern Gaza starting on Thursday, the White House said, as President Joe Biden pressed Israelis for a multi-day stoppage in the fighting in a bid to release hostages held by the militant group.
Biden said Thursday that there was “no possibility” of a formal cease-fire at the moment, and said it had “taken a little longer” than he hoped for Israel to agree to the humanitarian pauses. Biden had asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to institute the daily pauses during a Monday call and said he had also asked the Israelis for a pause of at least three days to allow for negotiations over the release of some hostages held by Hamas.
“Yes,” Biden said, when asked whether he had asked Israel for a three-day pause. “I’ve asked for even a longer pause for some of them.”
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that the first daily humanitarian pause would be announced Thursday and that the Israelis had committed to announcing each four-hour window at least three hours in advance. Israel, he said, also was opening a second corridor for civilians to flee the areas that are the current focus of its military campaign against Hamas, with a coastal road joining the territory’s main north-south highway.
Similar short-term pauses have occurred over the last several days as tens of thousands of civilians have fled southward, but Thursday’s announcement appeared to be an effort to formalise and expand the process, as the US has pressed Israelis to take greater steps to protect civilians in Gaza.
Biden’s push for an even longer pause comes as part of a renewed diplomatic push to free hostages taken by Hamas and other militant groups to the Gaza Strip during their October 7 surprise attack on Israel.
Israeli officials estimate that militants still hold 239 hostages, including children and the elderly, from the attack that also saw 1,400 Israelis killed. US officials say it believes fewer than 10 Americans are among those held captive.
Kirby told reporters Thursday that pauses could be useful to “getting all 239 hostages back with their families to include the less than 10 Americans that we know are being held. So if we can get all the hostages out, that’s a nice finite goal.”
“Humanitarian pauses can be useful in the transfer process,” he added.
Indirect talks were taking place in Qatar — which also played a role in the freeing of four hostages by Hamas last month — about a larger release of hostages. CIA Director William Burns was in Doha on Thursday to discuss efforts to win the release of hostages in Gaza with the Qatari prime minister and the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, according to a US official.
Burns met with Mossad chief David Barnea and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, said the official, who talked to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.
Qatar is a frequent go-between in international dealings with Hamas, and some top Hamas political leaders make their home in the Gulf country. The US official stressed Burns was not playing a lead role in the negotiations.
Kirby confirmed that the US continues to have “active discussions with partners about trying to secure the release of hostages,” noting in particular Qatar’s help.
“We know they have lines of communication with Hamas that we don’t,” Kirby said of Qatar. “And we’re going to continue to work with them and regional partners to try to secure the release of all the hostages.”