Palestinians families fleeing Gaza City and other parts of northern Gaza towards the southern areas, walk along a highway on November 9, 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. Image Credit: AFP

WASHINGTON: Israel will begin four-hour pauses in northern Gaza starting on Thursday to allow people to flee hostilities, the White House said in what it called a step in the right direction.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said the pauses emerged out of discussions between US and Israeli officials in recent days, including talks President Joe Biden had with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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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.

“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.

“We understand that Israel will begin to implement four-hour pauses in areas of northern Gaza” with an announcement to come three hours in advance,” he 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 also said a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas militants is not in order because it would help Hamas and “legitimize what they did on October 7 and we simply are not going to stand for that at this time.”

Second corridor

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.

Biden also told reporters that he had asked the Israelis for a “pause longer than three days” during negotiations over the release of some hostages held by Hamas, though he said there was “no possibility” of a general ceasefire.

Asked if he was frustrated by Netanyahu over the delays instituting humanitarian pauses, Biden said, “It’s taken a little longer than I hoped.”

Kirby told reporters on 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.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had warned Israel last week that it risked destroying an eventual possibility for peace unless it acted swiftly to improve humanitarian conditions in Gaza for Palestinian civilians as it intensifies its war against Hamas.

In a blunt call for Israel to pause military operations in the territory to allow for the immediate and increased delivery of assistance, Blinken said the situation would drive Palestinians toward further radicalism and effectively end prospects for any eventual resumption of peace talks to end the conflict.

French President Emmanuel Macron had opened a Gaza aid conference on Thursday with an appeal for Israel to protect civilians, saying that “all lives have equal worth” and that fighting terrorism “can never be carried out without rules.”