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    Israel says it will pause daytime fighting in southern Gaza to help flow of aid

    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 (7.4 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 some of the overwhelming needs of Palestinians that have surged in recent weeks with Israel’s incursion into Rafah.

    The army said 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 is aimed at allowing aid trucks to reach the nearby Israel-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing, the main entry point for aid, 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 a crossing in the north.

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

    A U.N. humanitarian 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 the U.N. hopes for further concrete measures by Israel, including smoother operations at checkpoints and the regular entry of needed fuel.

    Israel and Hamas are weighing the latest proposal for a cease-fire, a plan detailed by 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 has not 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 Netanyahu received assurances that “there is no change” in the military’s policy and the “fighting in Rafah continues as planned.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

    Israeli TV 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.

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

    Israel announced the names of 12 soldiers killed in recent attacks in Gaza. That puts the number of soldiers killed since Israel began its ground invasion of Gaza last year at 309. Hamas killed some 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 against Hamas 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, on Sunday 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 Rafah crossing as long as Israel controls the Palestinian side in Gaza.

    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 trucks 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, both 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 that they have not fixed,” 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 been slowed because the Israeli 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 window each day.

    Due to a lack of security, aid trucks in some cases have been looted by crowds as they moved along Gaza’s roads. It was not immediately clear whether the army would provide security to protect the aid trucks moving along the highway.

    ___

    Shurafa reported from Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip. Keath reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Jack Jeffery in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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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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