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Middle East crisis: Israel says fighting to reduce in parts of southern Gaza

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The announcement, first released on the Israeli military’s English and Arabic channels on Sunday, seemed unexpected: The Israeli military will “pause” fighting during daytime hours in a key humanitarian aid corridor in southern Gaza until further notice.

Amid some confusion over the scope of the suspension, Israel quickly issued a clarification, this time in Hebrew, seemingly to explain to its own people at home. The statement said the change did not mean a halt to fighting in the southern Gaza Strip, adding that fighting was continuing in the southernmost city of Rafah. Military officials said Daily Pause The aim is simply to facilitate the distribution of increased food aid to the Gaza Strip, where international organizations have issued dire warnings of famine.

The odd messaging became even stranger when the government suggested that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had only learned of the military’s plans from news reports and expressed his disapproval.

But analysts say the prime minister is likely aware not only of the plan but also of the information releases, which are each targeted at a different audience.The erratic statements appear to reflect the competing pressures Netanyahu faces as he juggles demands from the Biden administration and elsewhere around the globe with those of his own hawkish government. His far-right coalition partners oppose any concessions in Gaza, and he relies on their support to remain in power.

The new policy on the humanitarian corridor went into effect on Saturday, according to military officials, with the military saying fighting would be suspended in the corridor from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. But Netanyahu suggested he was not informed of the plan until Sunday morning.

Children wait for food in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, on Saturday.Credit…Haitham Imad/EPA, image via Shutterstock

“This is typical Netanyahu,” said Amos Harel, a military affairs analyst for the left-wing newspaper Haaretz, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname. Like other experts, Harel said the announcement could not have come as a complete surprise to him, even if military commanders had not briefed him on the timing of their alleged change in tactics.

“He wears a mask in every setting,” Harrell said in an interview. “To the Americans, he needs to show that he is doing more to get aid. To the Israelis, he can say ‘I don’t know’ and adopt plausible deniability.”

An unnamed government official, whose name and office cannot be made public under customary practice, said in a statement on Sunday that Netanyahu found the humanitarian ceasefire unacceptable when he learned of it. The statement also said the prime minister was later assured that the military’s plans for the battle for Rafah, a southern Gaza city close to the corridor that has been the focus of recent operations, had not changed.

Shani Sasson, a spokesman for Cogat, an Israeli agency that monitors policy in the Palestinian territories and liaises with international organisations, said the move was to help clear a backlog of more than 1,000 trucks that had passed Israeli inspections and were waiting at the Kerem Shalom crossing on the Gaza side.

“We are asking aid organizations to come and collect and distribute the aid,” Ms. Sassen said. “It’s up to them.”

The military move coincided with the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha and came amid uncertainty over the fate of a ceasefire proposal between Israel and Hamas that includes a hostage swap for Palestinian prisoners. Officials said Hamas had demanded some unrealistic changes to the proposal, which was backed by the Biden administration and endorsed by the U.N. Security Council.

Palestinians mourned their loved ones at a makeshift cemetery in the al-Tuffah neighborhood in eastern Gaza City on Sunday.Credit…Omar Khatta/AFP—Getty Images

Israel is also awaiting the release of another international report on food insecurity in Gaza this month, which said in March that warn Half of Gaza’s population faces “catastrophic” food shortages and imminent famine.

Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Galant also face the threat of arrest for war crimes at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. They are accused of using starvation as a weapon of war.

Israel portrays Rafah as the last bastion of Hamas militants and that the military operation there is the final step in the war. The Israeli military now controls the southern Gaza border corridor with Egypt, which has long been the main channel for weapons smuggling into Gaza.

Israelis are increasingly skeptical about where this war will go and when it will end. The costs on both sides have been rising. At least 10 Israeli soldiers were killed in fighting this weekend, and an 11th soldier died from injuries received a few days ago.

The war was sparked by a Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people, and more than 300 Israeli soldiers have died in the fighting since then.

More than 37,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war so far, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians.

Gadi Eisenkot, a former military chief turned centrist politician who quit the emergency wartime government last week along with party leader Benny Gantz, accused Netanyahu of putting his own political needs ahead of national security in an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 this weekend.

Eisenkot said National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, one of Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners, has been influencing discussions in the war cabinet, even though Ben-Gvir is not a member of the decision-making body.

At the funeral of Captain Wasim Mahmoud, who was killed in the fighting, in Beit Jan, Israel, on Sunday.Credit…Amir Levy/Getty Images

Mr. Ben Gvir and the far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich openly criticized the military leadership during the war and also Vows to overthrow Netanyahu government If he agrees to a ceasefire until Hamas is completely eliminated – a goal many experts say is unachievable.

As expected, Mr Ben Gvir was quick on Sunday to slam the humanitarian pause announced by the military. Social Media PostsCondemned it as a “crazy and delusional approach”, adding that the “evil fool” who made the decision cannot continue in his position.

Mr Ben Gwier did not specify who he was referring to.

Gabrielle Sobelman Contributed reporting.

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