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Updated Nov 9, 2023, 1:19pm EST
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Israel agrees to daily 4-hour pauses in Gaza fighting, White House says

An Israeli colonel walks through a damaged bedroom inside a residential building amid the ongoing operation against Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip, November 8, 2023.
REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
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Israel has agreed to pause its siege on northern Gaza for four hours every day to allow humanitarian aid to enter and civilians to flee, the White House announced Thursday.

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that Israel informed the U.S. that “there will be no military operations in these areas over the duration of the pause, and that this process is starting today.”

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The U.S. had pushed Israel to agree to the “humanitarian pauses.” Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin called Thursday’s announcement a ”phenomenal diplomatic accomplishment" for President Joe Biden. At one point, the U.S. and Israel had discussed the possibility of a three-day pause in exchange for some of the hostages held by Hamas, Axios reported. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed more open to the pauses in recent days, telling ABC News that Israel would ”check the circumstances in order to enable ... humanitarian goods to come in, or our hostages, individual hostages to leave.”

The Washington narrative that Biden doesn’t have much influence over Netanyahu’s decisions — given their public back-and forth over humanitarian pauses — is “reductive,” Steve Coll wrote for the New Yorker on Wednesday. Biden “is trying to moderate Israel’s war,” Coll wrote, while the U.S. is also playing its long-held role of “acting willingly as a lightning rod for criticism about the human costs of Israel’s campaign against Hamas.” Don’t take the leaders’ public statements about ceasefires and pauses at face value, Coll argued, because they are privately engaged in high-stakes and secret negotiations for the release of hostages.

With Biden emphasizing Thursday that there is “no possibility” of a full ceasefire, the pauses are not likely to appease activists around the world who are holding massive protests urging their leaders to call for a ceasefire. ”This is smoke & mirrors," political analyst and Middle East Institute scholar Hafsa Halawa said, raising concerns about where Palestinians can actually flee to and whether pauses in the conflict actually make civilians safer. The plan is also facing criticism from the right within Israel; hard-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir called it a mistake and said: “We must continue the fighting.”

Tens of thousands of Gazans have streamed down the main north-south route in Gaza in search of safety after Israel agreed to a temporary pause in fighting along the corridor. Some waved white flags, while others begged Israeli soldiers to allow them to take their vehicles but were told they had to walk, The New York Times reported. “There are bodies, decomposed bodies dumped in the middle of the road,” one man who make the trek told the Times. ”People stepped over the bodies and kept walking.” A second corridor is set to open up to allow more civilians to leave northern Gaza, Kirby said.

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