Rare day of relative calm as Gaza sees ‘tactical pause’ for aid

Published June 17, 2024
People search for survivors in the rubble of a building following Israeli bombardment at al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.—AFP
People search for survivors in the rubble of a building following Israeli bombardment at al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.—AFP

GAZA STRIP: Gaza saw its first day of relative calm in months on Sunday, after Israel’s military said it would “pause” fighting daily around a southern route to facilitate aid flows, following repeated UN warnings of famine in the Palestinian territory.

“Compared with the previous days, today, the first day of Eidul Azha, is considered near calm and the calm has prevailed across all of Gaza,” Mahmud Basal, spokesman for the civil defence agency in Hamas-ruled Gaza, said.

He said the exceptions included “some targeting” in Gaza City’s Shujaiya and Zeitun areas, as well as Israeli artillery fire in Rafah, southern Gaza.

Correspondents in Gaza’s north and centre reported no fighting on Sunday morning, though they reported some shelling and at least one strike in Rafah and an air strike in central Gaza during the early evening. The military stressed in a statement there was “no cessation of hostilities in the southern Gaza Strip”.

There were reports of some shelling and at least one strike in Rafah and an air strike in central Gaza during the evening

The announcement of a “local, tactical pause of military activity” during daylight hours in an area of Rafah came a day after eight Israeli soldiers were killed in a blast near the far-southern city and three more troops died elsewhere.

It was one of the heaviest losses for the army in more than eight months of war against Hamas.

‘Sudden calm’

“Since this morning, we’ve felt a sudden calm with no gunfire or bombings... It’s strange,” said 30-year-old Haitham al-Ghura from Gaza City.

The United Nations welcomed the Israeli move, although “this has yet to translate into more aid reaching people in need”, said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA.

He called for “further concrete measures by Israel to address longstanding issues” on aid needs.

Laerke said Gazans “urgently need food, water, sanitation, shelter, and health care, with many living near piles of solid waste, heightening health risks”. “We need to be able to deliver aid safely throughout Gaza,” he added.

The UN and aid groups have repeatedly voiced alarm over dire shortages of food and other essentials in the Gaza Strip.

This has been exacerbated by overland access restrictions and the closure of the key Rafah crossing with Egypt since Israeli forces seized the Palestinian side in early May.

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

The pause “for humanitarian purposes will take place from 8am until 7pm every day until further notice along the road that leads from the Kerem Shalom crossing to the Salah al-Din road and then northwards,” a military statement said.

A map released by the army showed the declared humanitarian route extending until Rafah’s European Hospital, about 10 kilometres (six miles) from Kerem Shalom.

Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2024

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