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Israel announces ‘pause’ along southern Gaza route to allow in aid but no let up in Rafah offensive

<i>Hatem Khaled/Reuters/File via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Palestinians gather to receive food cooked from a charity kitchen in Rafah
Hatem Khaled/Reuters/File via CNN Newsource
Palestinians gather to receive food cooked from a charity kitchen in Rafah

By Abeer Salman, Kathleen Magramo, Ibrahim Dahman, Eugenia Yosef and Lauren Izso, CNN

Jerusalem (CNN) — The Israeli military has announced a “tactical pause” of military activity along a route in southern Gaza to allow aid to be distributed but stressed that there would be no let up in fighting in and around Rafah in southern Gaza.

The pause began on Saturday and will take place every day from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. local time until further notice to allow trucks to move from the Kerem Shalom Crossing, the main entry point for incoming aid to southern Gaza, up the Salah al-Din Road and northwards, the IDF said.

Israel’s campaign in Gaza has triggered a humanitarian crisis. A bottleneck of aid has built up at Kerem Shalom amid airstrikes and fighting in much of southern Gaza.

The IDF has designated a route from Kerem Shalom to Al Bayuk and onto the European Hospital in Khan Younis to be open during the day for the transportation of humanitarian aid only. It will be run in coordination with international organizations, it said, as part of efforts to increase volumes of aid reaching Gaza.

But soon after announcing the move, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said “the fighting in Rafah continues,” adding “there is no change in the entry of goods into the Strip.”

The fierce fighting that been underway in Rafah as Israel seeks to destroy Hamas in Gaza continued on Sunday, with a civil defense official in Gaza telling CNN that heavy clashes are ongoing in neighborhoods of western Rafah.

On Saturday, eight IDF soldiers were killed near the city, one of the single deadliest incidents of the war for Israeli troops.

The director of UNRWA affairs in Gaza, Scott Anderson, welcomed the “tactical pause,” telling CNN “we very much hope that this long pause every day will allow us to move freely back and forth.”

But a spokesperson for the UN Children’s Fund warned the pause could not replace a ceasefire. “I just don’t know unfortunately [how long the pause will last], this is a question for the the occupying power, for Israel and its military,” said James Elder.

Meanwhile, criticisms of the “tactical pause” by senior Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have raised the question of who ordered it.

According to an Israeli official, Netanyahu was unhappy when he first heard about it.

Netanyahu then contacted his military secretary and said the idea was unacceptable until he was assured the fighting in Rafah would continue, said the official who spoke to CNN on Sunday and requested anonymity.

Israel’s security minister Ben Gvir – a leading right-wing member of the cabinet – has also condemned the pause. “Whoever decided on a ‘tactical pause’ for the purpose of a humanitarian transition, especially at a time when the best of our soldiers are falling in battle, is evil and a fool who should not continue to be in his position,” he said.

Humanitarian crisis

The distribution of aid announced by Israel comes as Muslims in Gaza are marking Eid al-Adha with little food. Eid ul-Adha begins on Sunday evening and ends on Thursday, June 20.

Human rights groups have described “unspeakable” living conditions for Palestinians in Gaza following eight months of Israeli bombardment, with over 75% of the population displaced, according to the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA). Israel’s military campaign has pulverized neighborhoods, damaged health infrastructure and depleted food, water and fuel supplies.

More than 37,000 people have been killed in Israel’s offensive in Gaza, according to figures from the Ministry of Health in Gaza. The conflict in the enclave began following the October 7 attacks led by the Palestinian militant group Hamas that killed around 1,200 people and captured 250 hostages in southern Israel.

More than 50,000 children in Gaza now require treatment for acute malnutrition, UNRWA said in a post on X on Saturday.

“With continued restrictions to humanitarian access, people in #Gaza continue to face desperate levels of hunger. Over 50,000 children require treatment for acute malnutrition.”

Last month, Israel pressed ahead with its ground operation in central Rafah, which led hundreds of thousands of already displaced people to leave the area.

Internally displaced Palestinians are estimated to be crammed into an area of 69 square kilometers (27 square miles) – less than a fifth of the territory’s area.

Aid has been delivered to Gaza by land, sea and air since soon after the war began, but few entry points remain operational. Those are Kerem Shalom on Gaza’s southern border and Western Erez in the north.

Humanitarian agencies say that land routes are the quickest and most effective way of getting aid into Gaza at scale. But even when aid crosses into Gaza there are multiple issues with distributing it throughout Gaza, because convoys require Israeli approval, many roads are severely damaged and security is frequently challenging.

Efforts to bring aid via sea have stuttered after the US military said Friday it would temporarily dismantle the humanitarian pier it constructed off the coast of Gaza due to heavy seas.

It will be the second time in a matter of weeks that the fragile pier and causeway system, known as Joint Logistics over the Shore or JLOTS, has had to be moved back to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

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