Netanyahu condemns daily ‘military pause’ by Israeli army to allow aid into Gaza

Children collect food donated by a charity in Khan Yunis camp, southern Gaza Strip
Children collect food donated by a charity in Khan Yunis camp, southern Gaza Strip - Shutterstock/Haitham Imad

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, criticised plans announced by the military to hold daily tactical pauses in fighting along one of the main roads into Gaza to facilitate aid deliveries.

The military had announced daily pauses from 6am until 5pm BST in the area from the Kerem Shalom Crossing to north of the Salah al-Din Road.

“When the prime minister heard the reports of an 11-hour humanitarian pause in the morning, he turned to his military secretary and made it clear that this was unacceptable to him,” an Israeli official said.

The military clarified that normal operations would continue in Rafah, the main focus of its operation in southern Gaza, where eight soldiers were killed on Saturday.

The reaction from Mr Netanyahu underlined political tensions over the issue of aid going into Gaza, where international organisations have warned of a growing humanitarian crisis.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s security minister, who leads one of the nationalist religious parties in Mr Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, denounced the idea of a tactical pause, saying whoever decided it was a “fool” who should lose their job.

The spat was the latest in a series of clashes between members of the coalition and the military over the conduct of the war, now in its ninth month.

It came a week after Benny Gantz, a former general, quit the government, accusing Mr Netanyahu of having no effective strategy in Gaza.

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

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

The announcement came as Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha, the Islamic festival marking the end of Ramadan.

Palestinians prepare sheep for the Eid al-Adha slaughtering ritual in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip
Palestinians prepare sheep for the Eid al-Adha slaughtering ritual in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip - Getty/Bashar Taleb

“This Eid is completely different,” said Umm Muhammad al-Katri in northern Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp.

“We’ve lost many people, there’s a lot of destruction. We don’t have the joy we usually have,” she said.

Instead of a cheerful holiday spirit, “I came to the Eid prayers mourning. I’ve lost my son”.

Correspondents in Gaza said there were no reports of strikes, shelling or fighting on Sunday morning, although the military stressed in a statement there was “no cessation of hostilities in the southern Gaza Strip”.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) 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 IDF 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.

Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, an IDF spokesman, 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.

Abu Obaida, spokesman for Hamas’s military wing, vowed to “continue our painful strikes against the enemy wherever it may be”.

Saturday’s losses brought the IDF’s overall official death toll to 309 since it began its ground offensive in Gaza on Oct 27.