Israel's army says it will pause daytime fighting along a route in southern Gaza to help flow of aid

The Israeli military says it is pausing fighting during daytime hours along a route in southern Gaza to free up a backlog of humanitarian aid deliveries for desperate Palestinians

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's military announced on Sunday that it would pause fighting during daytime hours along a route in southern Gaza to free up a backlog of humanitarian aid deliveries for desperate Palestinians enduring a humanitarian crisis sparked by the war, now in its ninth month.

The "tactical pause," which applies to about 12 kilometers (7½ miles) of road in the Rafah area, falls far short of a complete cease-fire in the territory that has been sought by the international community, including Israel's top ally, the United States. It could help address the overwhelming needs of Palestinians that have surged in recent weeks with Israel's incursion into Rafah.

The army said that the daily pause would begin at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) and last until 7 p.m. (1600 GMT) and continue until further notice. It's aimed at allowing aid trucks to reach the nearby Israel-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing, the main entry point, and travel safely to the Salah a-Din highway, a main north-south road, the military said. The crossing has had a bottleneck since Israeli ground troops moved into Rafah in early May.

COGAT, the Israeli military body that oversees aid distribution in Gaza, said the route would increase the flow of aid to other parts of Gaza, including Khan Younis, the coastal area of Muwasi and central Gaza. Hard-hit northern Gaza, an early target in the war, is served by goods entering from the north.

The military said that the pause, which begins as Muslims start marking the Eid Al-Adha holiday, came after discussions with the United Nations and other aid agencies.

A U.N. spokesperson, Jens Laerke, told The Associated Press that Israel's announcement was welcome but “no aid has been dispatched from Kerem Shalom today," with no details. Laerke said that the U.N. hopes for further concrete measures by Israel, including smoother operations at checkpoints and regular entry of fuel.

Israel and Hamas are weighing the latest proposal for a cease-fire, detailed by U.S. President Joe Biden in the administration's most concentrated diplomatic push for a halt to the fighting and the release of hostages taken by the militant group. While Biden described the proposal as an Israeli one, Israel hasn't fully embraced it. Hamas has demanded changes that appear unacceptable to Israel.

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowing to press ahead with the war and many members of his far-right government opposed to the cease-fire proposal, news of the military's pause triggered a minor political storm.

An Israeli official quoted Netanyahu as saying the plan was “unacceptable to him" when he learned of it. The official said that Netanyahu received assurances that “there is no change” in the military's policy and “fighting in Rafah continues as planned.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak with the media.

Israeli television stations later quoted Netanyahu as criticizing the military: “We have a country with an army, not an army with a country.”

But neither Netanyahu nor the army canceled the new arrangement. While the army insisted “there is no cessation of fighting” in southern Gaza, it also said the new route would be open during daytime hours “exclusively for the transportation of humanitarian aid.”

The fighting continued. Nine people, including five children, were killed Sunday when a house was struck in Bureji in central Gaza, according to AP journalists who counted the bodies at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah. A man wept over the small sheet-wrapped bundle in his arms. Two of the children had been playing in the street.

“What did this girl do to you, Netanyahu? Isn’t this forbidden for you?” a woman cried, holding a dead child.

Israel’s military didn’t respond to questions about the strike.

Israel announced the names of 12 soldiers killed in recent attacks in Gaza, putting the number killed since Israel began its ground invasion of Gaza last year at 309. Hamas killed around 1,200 people during its Oct. 7 attack and took 250 hostage, Israeli authorities say. Health officials in Hamas-run Gaza say more than 37,000 Palestinians have been killed.

Israel’s military offensive has plunged Gaza into a humanitarian crisis, with the U.N. reporting hundreds of thousands of people on the brink of famine.

Hamas' supreme leader, Ismail Haniyeh, called for more pressure to open border crossings. Another crossing, the Rafah terminal between Gaza and Egypt, has been closed since Israel moved into the city. Egypt has refused to reopen the crossing as long as Israel controls the Palestinian side.

The flow of aid in southern Gaza has declined just as need grew. More than 1 million Palestinians, many of whom had already been displaced, fled Rafah after the invasion, crowding into other parts of southern and central Gaza. Most languish in tent camps, with open sewage in the streets.

From May 6 until June 6, the U.N. received an average of 68 trucks of aid a day. That was down from 168 a day in April and far below the 500 a day that aid groups say are needed.

COGAT says there are no restrictions on the entry of trucks. It says more than 8,600 trucks of all kinds, aid and commercial, entered Gaza from all crossings from May 2 to June 13, an average of 201 a day. But much of that aid has piled up at crossings.

A COGAT spokesman, Shimon Freedman, said it was the U.N.’s fault that its cargo stacked up on the Gaza side of Kerem Shalom. He said its agencies have “fundamental logistical problems,” especially a lack of trucks.

The U.N. denies such allegations. It says the fighting often makes it too dangerous for U.N. trucks inside Gaza to travel to Kerem Shalom. It also says the pace of deliveries has slowed because Israel's military must authorize drivers to travel to the site, a system Israel says was designed for drivers’ safety.

The new arrangement aims to reduce the need for coordinating deliveries by providing an 11-hour uninterrupted daily window

Because of a lack of security, some aid trucks have been looted by crowds as they moved along Gaza’s roads. It wasn't immediately clear whether the army would provide security to protect trucks moving along the highway.

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Wafaa Shurafa reported from Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip, and Lee Keath from Cairo. Jack Jeffery contributed to this report from Jerusalem.

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Follow AP's coverage of the war in Gaza at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

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