Israel’s plan for ‘tactical pause’ for aid raises questions and deepens rifts. Here’s what we know

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The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has announced a “tactical pause” of military activities along a road in southern Gaza that has been designated for humanitarian aid deliveries every day for 11 hours.

The announcement comes as the strip’s population of more than 2 million grapples with humanitarian conditions that the United Nations has described as “unspeakable.”

The war, which began on October 7 in the wake of Hamas’ attack on Israel that killed around 1,200 people and captured 250 hostages, is now in its ninth month with no indication of a ceasefire-hostage deal in the immediate future. The fighting has killed more than 37,000 people so far in Gaza, according to the health ministry in the enclave. On Saturday, eight Israeli soldiers were killed in southern Gaza in one of the deadliest single incidents since the war began. More than 300 IDF soldiers have died to date.

The “pause,” which the IDF announced Sunday but COGAT, the Israeli agency responsible for approving aid into Gaza, said came into effect on Saturday, raised questions about what it means for the conflict and for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Human rights groups have described health concerns “beyond crisis levels” for Palestinians in the enclave, 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.

The announcement also appeared to have deepened existing political rifts in the Israeli government, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unhappy when he first heard about it, according to one official.

Here’s what we know.

What did Israel announce?

The IDF announced that a “local, tactical pause of military activity for humanitarian purposes” will take place every day from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. local time until further notice.

The pause began Saturday, the IDF said, and is meant 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 has designated a specific route for aid trucks to take, which starts from Kerem Shalom to Al Bayuk neighborhood and onto the European Hospital in Khan Younis.

The route will be run in coordination with international organizations, the IDF said, as part of efforts to increase volumes of aid reaching Gaza.

Soon after announcing the move, the IDF said “the fighting in Rafah continues,” adding that “there is no change” in the country’s policy on aid into the strip.

In response to a question by CNN’s Paula Hancocks during a briefing to international media in Kerem Shalom on Monday, Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said that “sometimes when you say a tactical pause, people might think that we’re stopping the fighting in Gaza.”

“We should’ve clarified better that we are fighting in Gaza, that we are fighting in Rafah and we created this safe pass, in those hours, to make sure the distribution (of aid) is ongoing,” Hagari said.

What will it mean in practice?

The IDF said the “humanitarian pause” is meant to help the UN collect and distribute aid at its crossings, where Israel has said aid is piling up.

COGAT said on Sunday that there are 1,000 humanitarian aid trucks on the Gazan side of the Kerem Shalom crossing waiting to be collected and distributed.

Georgios Petropoulos, head of the UN humanitarian affairs (UNOCHA) suboffice in Gaza, told CNN on Monday the pause “was not a new thing on the ground,” and that there are a number of issues preventing aid workers from reaching parts of the Palestinian enclave.

These include the fighting between Israel and Hamas, but also the danger that exists on travel routes as many parts of Gaza battle a state of lawlessness – where there is “a lack of any police or rule of law,” Petropoulos said.

The pause is “simply a packaging of an announcement reflecting what we have been doing here in Gaza for over a week,” Petropoulos told CNN, adding that “that road was being used by the UN to move goods for days.”

A truck carrying aid for delivery into Gaza drives through the Kerem Shalom crossing in southern Israel on Monday. - Nathan Frandino/Reuters
A truck carrying aid for delivery into Gaza drives through the Kerem Shalom crossing in southern Israel on Monday. - Nathan Frandino/Reuters

When roads are dangerous, aid trucks cannot travel up them, he said. “The war between Hamas and Israel is not the only issue we have on the ground.”

It is unclear how effective the pause will be, as the IDF has previously designated other routes as safe paths for aid, only for aid convoys to be struck. In April, the deadly Israeli attack that killed seven aid workers from the non-profit World Central Kitchen (WCK) in Gaza hit what the team said was a “deconflicted zone” in coordination with the Israeli military.

Aid groups are saying that no difference has yet been seen on the ground.

“We have not seen any improvements thus far,” said Scott Anderson, director of UNRWA affairs in Gaza, stressing that “the law and order environment in Gaza is not enabling the efficient delivery of aid.”

The spokesperson for the UN Children’s Fund, James Elder, 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 occupying power, for Israel and its military.”

What’s the aid situation like in Gaza now?

The more than eight-month long humanitarian crisis in Gaza is spiraling. Thousands have died in the besieged enclave, according to the health ministry there, and more than half the population has been internally displaced.

Gazans are facing desperate levels of hunger, with more than 50,000 children in need of treatment for acute malnutrition, UNRWA said. Hospitals are in ruins, medical supplies are scarce and humanitarian access remains limited, the UN agency added.

According to UNRWA’s data, 60 trucks entered Gaza on June 12, the last batch of vehicles the UN agency has recorded.

The dead and wounded, including children, are brought to al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital after Israeli attacks on Bureij Refugee Camp in Deir al-Balah, Gaza on Sunday. - Ashraf Amra/Anadolu/Getty Images
The dead and wounded, including children, are brought to al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital after Israeli attacks on Bureij Refugee Camp in Deir al-Balah, Gaza on Sunday. - Ashraf Amra/Anadolu/Getty Images

Land crossings, which aid groups say are the most effective way of getting aid into Gaza, remain limited. Out of five land crossings, only two have been open for aid trucks recently. Those are the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom and Western Erez crossings.

A humanitarian pier constructed by the US military off the coast of Gaza has also shuttered due to heavy seas, hampering maritime aid delivery.

The Government Media Office (GMO) in Gaza has denied that a “tactical pause” is now in effect in the southern Gaza Strip.

“Talking about a tactical cessation of the war is an Israeli lie,” the GMO said in a statement Sunday. “We are still demanding the opening of the Rafah crossing to meet the needs of the population, especially in the northern Gaza Strip.”

What has the Israeli government said?

It is unclear who took the decision for the pause, as several senior Israeli officials seemed to have been kept in the dark ahead of the announcement. This includes the prime minister, who initially disowned the pause.

According to one Israeli official, Netanyahu has raised the question of who ordered it and was unhappy when he first heard about it.

The prime minister 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.

Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir 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.

Israel's National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir arrives at Jerusalem's Old City during the annual Jerusalem Day march, in Jerusalem on June 5. - Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
Israel's National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir arrives at Jerusalem's Old City during the annual Jerusalem Day march, in Jerusalem on June 5. - Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

These disagreements, which burst out into the open across statements and in Israeli media, have only deepened rifts in the country’s government.

An IDF spokesman said Monday the pause had been approved by Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant. He said this kind of decision would first be made by COGAT and the Southern Command, and then go up the chain of command for approval, depending on the situation.

When asked if this kind of decision would need approval from the Israeli government or cabinet, the spokesperson said, “this kind of decision does not necessarily need to be approved by the cabinet, and it was approved by the minister of defense.”

In an earlier statement Monday the IDF had said the decision was made by the military, not by the Israeli government.

The announcement of the pause came “after the request of the political echelon of the IDF in recent weeks to allow the introduction of aid, and to announce this to the world,” the military told CNN in a statement.

The pause is meant to meet the demands of the International Court of Justice regarding Gaza aid deliveries ahead of a court hearing by the end of June, it added.

The pause is “intended for the hearing… at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, where Israel will have to prove that it did not violate the order it issued regarding the fighting in Rafah,” which prevented a court order to stop the war, the IDF said.

The ICJ is investigating a case brought by Pretoria against Israel in which South Africa accuses Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians during the war. In May, it ordered Israel to immediately halt its controversial military operation in Rafah, saying the court considers the humanitarian situation in the southern city to be classified as “disastrous.” Israeli officials condemned the ICJ’s ruling.

CNN’s Vasco Cotovio, Florence Davey-Attley, Kareem Khadder, Eyad Kourdi, Ibrahim Dahman, Elliott Gotkine, Andrew Raine, Tim Lister, Abeer Salman and Kathleen Magramo contributed reporting.

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