Israel is beginning a four-hour daily pause in fighting to allow humanitarian efforts in the north of Gaza. It comes as intense pressure grows for Israel to address the burgeoning civilian crisis resulting from repeated bombardment and the ongoing ground invasion.
The pause was scheduled to begin Thursday, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters, according to CBS News.
Israel told the U.S. there will be no military operations in those areas for the duration of the pauses, and the timing will be announced three hours before the pause begins each day, Kirby said.
“An Israeli official also confirmed the four-hour daily pauses, saying the reprieves are meant to allow people to move to the south of Gaza and obtain food and medicine,” according to CBS.
The pause, however, is no ceasefire, Israeli officials said.
"The fighting continues and there will be no ceasefire without the release of our hostages," the Israeli prime minister's office said in a statement. "Israel is allowing safe passage through humanitarian corridors from the northern Gaza Strip to the south, which 50,000 Gazans utilized just yesterday. We once again call on the civilian population of Gaza to evacuate to the south."
Israel's refusal to institute a ceasefire comes despite the urging of President Joe Biden, who has pressed Israelis for a multi-day stoppage in the fighting in a bid to release more than 240 hostages held by Hamas.
Biden said Thursday that there was “no possibility” of a formal ceasefire at the moment, and said it had “taken a little longer” than he hoped for Israel to agree to the humanitarian pauses, according to The Associated Press. Biden had asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to institute the daily pauses during a Monday call and said he had also asked the Israelis for a pause of at least three days to allow for negotiations over the release of some hostages held by Hamas.
“Yes,” Biden said, when asked whether he had asked Israel for a three-day pause. “I’ve asked for even a longer pause for some of them.”
Despite the pause, Israel is continuing its bombardment of northern Gaza Thursday evening local time.
The humanitarian agreement comes as Israeli troops have been fighting in the center of Gaza City near the al-Shifa hospital, killing Hamas fighters and destroying several tunnels, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said Thursday.
“The 162nd Division has been operating in recent days in the center of Gaza City in the area of Hamas' military quarter; forces of the Givati Brigade eliminated about 50 terrorists,” the IDF said on Telegram. “The infantry, armor and engineering forces of the 162nd Division, with IAF air support and the assistance of special forces, raided the military quarter of the Hamas terrorist organization in the heart of Gaza City, near the Shifa Hospital.”
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In addition, “military intelligence documents were found and a number of significant tunnel shafts, factories for the production of anti-tank missiles, and anti-aircraft rocket launch posts were destroyed,” the IDF said.
The area “is the heart of intelligence and operational activities of Hamas and was used, among other things, to plan and prepare Hamas operatives for the murderous attack on October 7th,” the IDF said, explaining why the area has been targeted.
It contains the Hamas "central intelligence headquarters and the aerial array headquarters" as well as "Hamas government offices, including the Ministry of Interior and a police station,” the IDF said. It also houses "the largest training facilities in the Gaza Strip for urban warfare, military outposts, warehouses and various munitions factories (used to produce rockets, anti-tank missiles, UAVs and explosives). Also in the area are commanders' offices, underground tunnel networks and war-rooms from which the Hamas terrorist organization directs fighting and fire.”
These “are in close proximity to civilian facilities such as schools, kindergartens, medical clinics and mosques,” the IDF said. "This is further proof of the terrorist organization's use of the residents of the Gaza Strip as a human shield for its murderous terrorist activities.”
The Chief of the General Staff Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi and Chief of the General Security Service Ronan Bar accompanied troops deep into the Gaza Strip and conducted a situation assessment on the ground, the IDF said.
IDF troops raised the blue and white flag of Israel on the Mediterranean Sea coast, further highlighting how the north has been cut off from the south.
Hamas says it is fighting back, hitting Israeli forces in the northern Gaza areas of Al Tawam, Sheikh Radwan, al-Shati camp and Juhr Al-Dik.
“Qassam Mujahideen trapped a Zionist foot force in a tight ambush in Juhr al-Dik, targeting them with an individual shell, and finishing them off from a distance of zero,” Hamas said on Telegram.
Hamas said the ongoing attacks on Gaza “are barbaric aggression.”
It called for further demonstrations around the world to “stop the aggression and the thirst and starvation of children in the Gaza Strip.”
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Though Biden has cast doubt on casualty figures provided by health officials in Gaza, a senior Biden administration official said the death toll of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is likely far higher than what those officials are reporting.
To date, Palestinian health officials have said more than 10,000 have been killed by Israeli attacks.
The official, Barbara Leaf, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, also acknowledged that the ministry does not differentiate between civilians and Hamas combatants in its death toll – “they mingle them,” she said, The Hill reported. But, she underscored that the cost of Israel’s military operations on the besieged Strip, coupled with Hamas’s use of civilians as human shields, has been devastating.
As tens of thousands of Gazans continue to flee the north, the IDF published a phone number alongside a Telegram channel for them to report when Hamas terrorists are preventing them from fleeing southwards, according to The Jerusalem Post.
In addition to other operations in Gaza, the IDF said it killed another Hamas leader Thursday.
"The IDF, guided by the intelligence of the Shin Bet and the Amman, eliminated the terrorist Ibrahim Abu Ma'zib, head of the anti-tank missile system of the Central Camps Brigade of the terrorist organization Hamas, using a fighter jet. As part of his role, he directed and carried out many anti-tank attacks Towards the citizens of Israel and the IDF forces."
Concerns about the violence erupting on a larger scale in the West Bank continue.
The IDF said that more than 10 terrorists were killed and more than 20 suspects arrested during a raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank.
Nur and Minur Salma, Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists, were among those arrested. In addition, two M-16 rifles, a "Carlo" gun, three handguns, ammunition, and military equipment were seized, the IDF said.
"IDF soldiers located and destroyed an underground tunnel shaft containing ready-to-use explosive devices. During searches in a building, additional weapons were found, as well as ammunition and military equipment. IDF soldiers neutralized a terrorist who fired at them and confiscated his M-16 rifle and cartridges. In addition, they destroyed a vehicle containing weapons."
In response, Hamas called for an armed attack on the IDF there.
“We call on the masses of our people throughout the West Bank and everyone who can carry weapons to mobilize to lift the siege on the Jenin camp and clash with the fascist occupation army, and escalate resistance with it in all available forms and tools,” Hamas said Thursday on Telegram
That fighting comes even as the Palestinian Authority suggests it could play a significant role in Gaza after Hamas is removed.
The Palestinian Authority has told the Biden administration that it is open to a governance role in post-Hamas Gaza if the United States commits to a full-fledged two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, The New York Times reported. The publication cited a top official of its parent group, the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The official, Hussein al-Sheikh, the P.L.O.’s secretary general, said he had told Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken last week that the Palestinian Authority sought “a commitment from the U.S. administration, with a comprehensive political decision that would include the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”
Speaking to The New York Times on Tuesday in Ramallah, the West Bank city where the Palestinian Authority is headquartered, al-Sheikh said that Palestinian leaders were looking for “a serious American initiative that would force Israel to abide by it, to commit to it.” He added, “This current U.S. administration is capable of doing that.”
Sounds of an explosion filled the air after a drone struck an elementary school in the southern Israeli resort town of Eilat Thursday afternoon local time, The Jerusalem Post reported.
Israel Police officers, including bomb disposal units, are currently investigating the situation at the Tze'elim Elementary School and have closed off several roads in the city. Local residents have been asked in the meantime to keep away from the site. "Everything is under the control of the security forces," Chief Superintendent of the Eilat Region Moshe Karadi stated.
In his evening briefing, IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said the origin of the drone remains unknown.
"We are investigating this incident, both to clarify where the aircraft came from and also why an alert was not activated," he said. "We will study all these details and inform the public. There are no casualties, the alert system works, the abilities work."
The IDF said its Arrow ballistic missile defense system intercepted another missile launched toward Israel, this time over the Red Sea.
The missile did not enter Israeli airspace, said the IDF, which did not say who fired it.
The system was used by Israel for the first time in this war on Oct. 31, intercepting a missile fired by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. You can read more about that in our initial report here.
Fighting also continues between Israel and Hezbollah along the Lebanese border.
"Following the report regarding sirens that sounded in northern Israel, several mortar shells fired from Lebanon to Israel were identified," the IDF said on Telegram. "IDF soldiers struck the launcher from which the mortar shells were fired.
In addition, several anti-tank missiles and gunshots were fired toward an IDF post in the area of Metula, in northern Israel, the IDF said. "IDF soldiers are currently responding with tanks and artillery fire toward the sources of fire. A short while ago, the IDF struck a launching post in Lebanon."
Hezbollah released video it says was an attack on an Israeli position in the north.
With nearly 10,000 rockets launched from Gaza, the IDF said it has deployed “the largest deployment of aerial defense batteries ever.”
“Since the beginning of the war, about 9,500 rockets and dozens of aircraft have been launched towards Israel,” the IDF said on Telegram Thursday. “The soldiers of the Aerial Defense Array intercepted thousands of rockets in the defended areas, and following the entry of ground forces into the Gaza Strip, a significant decrease in the number of launches is evident.”
The Aerial Defense Array “has carried out interceptions from Mount Dov in the north to the Red Sea in the south.”
“For the first time, all the aerial defense systems are working simultaneously - Iron Dome, David's Sling, Patriot and Arrow. All of these provide protection in every layer of aerial defense and enable optimal protection of the Israeli home front.”
The IDF credited “the deep cooperation effort between the IDF and the defense industries, as well as between the IDF and the United States Armed Forces, which are force multipliers in this war.”
In addition, the IDF said that “about 12% of the total launches toward Israel landed in the Gaza Strip and about 900 launches were carried out from civilian sites such as: mosques, schools, hospitals and cultural centers.”
You can read more about Israel’s impressive air defense umbrella in our explainer here.
As the Israeli invasion and bombardment continues, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been displaced, many forced to live in tent cities. Reuters reported on some lighter moments in a horrific situation.
Last night, we told you about two U.S. Air Force F-15 fighters carrying out a strike on an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps weapons facility in response to attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria.
Today reports are emerging that several people were killed in that attack.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that "nine people, including at least three Syrians, working with Iranians, were killed" in that attack on a "military headquarters and a weapons warehouse in Bor Saied Street, next to the automated bakery in Deir Ezzor city. The death toll is likely to increase due to the presence of injured in a critical condition, in addition to information about other deaths, and the strikes also resulted in the destruction of weapons and ammunition."
The War Zone could not independently verify those claims.
"We have no confirmation of casualties," U.S. Central Command told us.
The Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt has opened today to allow the evacuation of injured Palestinians requiring hospital treatment and foreign passport holders after being suspended for a day, Reuters reported.
Several dozen foreign passport holders and dependents, along with 12 medical evacuees, were able to cross the border on Thursday, Reuters reported, citing Egyptian security and medical sources.
Departures from Rafah, the only crossing to the besieged enclave that does not border Israel, had been paused on Wednesday due to what the U.S. State Department referred to as an unspecified security issue.
But on Thursday, two sources said that 695 foreign passport holders and dependents, including Egyptians, were able to cross.
This is a developing story. We will update it when there is more news about the Israel-Hamas war.
Update: 10:02 PM Eastern -
The IDF said it carried out an attack in Syria against an organization that attacked a school in Eilat with a drone. It did not name the organization responsible or provide details about how the attack was carried out or how much damage was caused.
"The IDF holds the Syrian regime fully responsible for every terror activity emanating from its territory," it said on Telegram. "The IDF will respond severely to every aggression against Israeli territory."
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