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Experts say Israel’s ‘humanitarian pauses’ will not mean much for Gaza

On Thursday, the White House announced that Israel has agreed to daily four-hour pauses in fighting in northern Gaza to allow people to flee hostilities and for humanitarian aid to be let in.

Yet, within hours, Israel’s bombing campaign had targeted Gaza’s largest hospital, al-Shifa, and Israeli tanks had surrounded four other hospitals in the northern part of the besieged enclave.

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With more than 11,000 Palestinians killed and over 27,000 injured, the al-Shifa Hospital has received just two shipments of life-saving supplies since the conflict escalated. The facility is barely hanging on by a thread, with many others fettered shut due to the fighting and the Israeli siege on Gaza following Hamas’s attack on southern Israel on October 7.

Meanwhile, Gaza is running short on water, many of its hospitals and other facilities are out of fuel, and a humanitarian crisis is deepening.

While the pauses could have offered some hope that hospitals might have been restocked, and other essential facilities could have received supplies, the attacks over the past 24 hours raise questions about Israel’s intent, and that of the US, said many experts. The pauses are also inadequate, they said.

Both the US and Israel have made it clear that there will be no ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

Unilateral move

Emanuela-Chiara Gillard, a senior fellow at the Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict at the University of Oxford and an associate fellow at Chatham House, welcomed the humanitarian pause announcement but said it has gaping holes.

“I think that any announcement to suspend hostilities temporarily is positive in view of the situation on the ground and the needs,” Gillard told Al Jazeera. “In the immediate short term, what is clearly needed is a temporary suspension of activities, to allow humanitarian actors to transit safely, to allow people to [receive] this humanitarian assistance.”

“The issue is that it is a unilateral rather than an agreed pause between Israel and Hamas and the other parties,” she added.

This raises the question of whether Hamas and other factions will respect the pause, as the Palestinian group has not committed to anything, Gillard said.

A third-party mediator should facilitate the agreement of pauses that would be respected by both sides, she added.

Gillard also said that Israel’s communication of the details of the pauses is of outright importance, otherwise civilians making use of them could land in harm’s way.

‘Pauses are not a solution’

Other analysts said that a humanitarian pause falls short of what is needed, and that Israel needed to cease hostilities entirely.

“Pauses are not a solution,” Abdel Hamid Siyam, professor of political science and Middle East studies at Rutgers University, told Al Jazeera, saying what is needed instead is a “ceasefire so that humanitarian aid can come in uninterrupted, that foreigners can leave the country, and maybe negotiations can take place”.

Siyam said that past directives by Israel have failed to protect civilians.

“If this is only a pause to allow people to move from the north to south, it did not work in the past, it will not work in the future,” he said. “In four hours, people cannot come. They don’t have cars, they don’t have fuel. It’s not going to work.”

He said that a ceasefire, however, may be on the cards soon.

“There is mounting pressure on Israel now to open up for a real ceasefire, a real truce for a day or two or three. I think that is coming in the next few days,” said Siyam.

Protecting Biden’s interests

Meanwhile, the US has its own interests in pushing its ally for the pause, said Sami Hamdi, the managing director at International Interest, a political risk firm focusing on the Middle East.

“The pause is designed to be a vehicle through which the US can continue to support Israel’s push to ethnically-cleanse the northern part of Gaza, but also be able to reframe and present that support to the raging global public as ‘humanitarian’,” Hamdi told Al Jazeera.

US President Joe Biden has come under pressure domestically, with resignations from his Department of State, and a letter from more than 500 former campaign staffers protesting against his refusal to call for a ceasefire.

What will particularly worry him, Hamdi said, are polls suggesting that he is now trailing former US President Donald Trump in several battleground states.

Rising public pressure might also make the current US position of rejecting a ceasefire untenable soon and Biden will be forced to intervene to stop Israel’s offensive, he said.

The delay in announcing the pause, however, also reflects growing tensions between Washington and Tel Aviv.

“Tel Aviv is concerned that the US push for a humanitarian pause is a ploy by which Biden hopes to lull Netanyahu into ceasefire talks, and has been adamant in demanding assurances that this is not the case,” said Hamdi.

And Palestinians will fare no better with the pause, he said, forced still to choose between leaving their lands for Israeli settlers, or to remain and die.

For some organisations on the ground, it is too early to tell whether the humanitarian pause will be helpful.

“We’ll see when –  and if – it’s implemented and then we will be able to comment,” Juliette Touma, UNRWA’s director of communications told Al Jazeera.

“We continue to call for a fully-fledged humanitarian ceasefire across the Gaza Strip for the protection of civilians wherever they are, inside the Gaza Strip and elsewhere, for the sake of civilians for the sake of humanity,” she added.

Source: Al Jazeera

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