Israel Pauses Daytime Offensive in Part of Gaza, Raising Hopes for More Aid

The Israeli military said on Monday that it had paused operations during daylight hours in parts of the southern Gaza Strip, as a new policy announced a day earlier appeared to take hold, along with cautious hopes that it would allow more food and other goods to reach desperate civilians.

Aid workers said they hoped that the daily pause in the Israeli offensive would make it less dangerous to deliver vital supplies to areas in central and southern Gaza from Kerem Shalom, a key border crossing between Israel and Gaza, removing one of many obstacles to their beleaguered operations.

But aid agencies warned that other restrictions on movement, as well as lawlessness in the territory, would still make it difficult to meet the dire needs of Gazans struggling to survive after eight months of war.

With stockpiles in southern Gaza dwindling, “maybe for a couple of weeks they’ll have enough food, but if we cannot have access and sustain that, then that’s going to be a big problem,” said Carl Skau, the deputy director of the World Food Program, an arm of the United Nations that distributes food in Gaza. Food supplies in southern Gaza were “more stabilized a month ago, but we are really concerned now,” said Mr. Skau, who visited Gaza last week.

The shift in Israeli operations came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disbanded the war cabinet he had formed after the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attacks, an Israeli official said on Monday, highlighting the strains within his government over the future of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.

The official characterized Mr. Netanyahu’s decision as a largely symbolic move after two of the five members of the war cabinet, Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, quit last week amid disagreements over the direction of the war. The men, both former military chiefs, are prominent members of the centrist opposition in Parliament to the right-wing government.

Their departure left Mr. Netanyahu more isolated, hearing from a narrower range of voices, without the air of interparty unity the war cabinet had at least suggested. “What he has now is more of an echo chamber,” said Mitchell Barak, an Israeli pollster and analyst who worked as an aide to Mr. Netanyahu in the 1990s.

Dissolving the war cabinet “centralizes his power and solidifies it and makes it much more difficult for any mutiny,” Mr. Barak said.

It also renders moot the question of whether Mr. Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the minister of national security, and Bezalel Smotrich, the finance minister, will join the war cabinet. Mr. Eisenkot had already complained that Mr. Ben-Gvir’s influence had loomed over the war cabinet’s discussions, even though he was not a member.

After Mr. Gantz resigned, Mr. Ben-Gvir had lobbied for a seat on the war cabinet, writing on social media that it was “about time to take brave decisions, achieve true deterrence, and bring true safety to the residents of the south, north, and all of Israel.”

For now, major decisions about the war in Gaza — like whether to agree to a cease-fire with Hamas — will still be put to a broader Israeli security cabinet, which includes Mr. Ben-Gvir and Mr. Smotrich. Both have argued strongly that Israel’s military offensive in Gaza must continue until Hamas is destroyed.

Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, and close advisers to Mr. Netanyahu like Ron Dermer, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States who served as a nonvoting member of the war cabinet, will also continue to shape war policy.

The Israeli military’s pause in daylight operations in parts of southern Gaza was announced on Sunday, after aid groups had asked the military to make it easier for them to operate around the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza. It does not apply to areas of central Gaza where many Palestinians have fled the fighting in Rafah.

“What we had asked for was windows to access Kerem Shalom without having to coordinate so closely with the I.D.F. — to be able to come and go, and the trucks to come and go, with more freedom,” said Scott Anderson, the deputy Gaza director for UNRWA, the lead United Nations agency for Palestinians, referring to the Israel Defense Forces.

Israel has argued that there are no limits on the amount of aid it allows to enter Gaza. It regularly blames disorganized aid groups — as well as theft by Hamas — for the failure to move food from Israeli to Palestinian control.

“We think their main problem is logistical, and they’re not doing enough to overcome those logistical problems,” said Shimon Freedman, a spokesman for COGAT, the branch of the Israeli defense ministry that coordinates with aid groups.

Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court have accused Israeli leaders of restricting aid delivery, seeking their arrest on charges including the use of starvation as a weapon of war.

When Israel invaded Rafah in early May, it hindered aid groups’ ability to distribute supplies from Israel and led to the closure of the lone aid route between Egypt and Gaza, at Rafah.

The closure of the Rafah crossing and fighting around it forced aid groups and commercial vendors to route more of their convoys through Israel, where trucks enter Gaza through the crossing at Kerem Shalom.

Once the food is inside Gaza, humanitarian organizations transfer it to their own vehicles and distribute it. Those groups say that Israel does too little to ensure the safety of those delivering aid, citing attacks on aid convoys and workers, including Israeli airstrikes.

Gaza has become the deadliest place in the world for aid workers, the United Nations said on Monday, with at least 250 killed since the war began in October, including almost 200 employees of the main U.N. agency operating there, UNRWA.

The Israeli military said on Monday that it had killed more than 500 combatants in Rafah since the offensive there began in early May, severely reducing the capacity of two of Hamas’s four battalions in the city. The remaining two battalions were operating at a “medium level,” the military said.

Israeli strikes have also damaged supply routes in Gaza, hindering the passage of convoys, and crowds of desperate Gazans often intercept trucks in search of food. Cash shortages have prevented many civilians from buying food brought into Gaza by commercial convoys.

And as summer approaches, there is a rising need for more clean drinking water, said Mr. Anderson, the deputy Gaza director for UNRWA.

In recent weeks, Israel has allowed aid groups greater access to northern Gaza, where fears of famine were once highest, opening up more access points to the north. Aid groups say that sanitation and health care are still woefully inadequate in northern Gaza, even if food supplies have improved.

“We were driving through rivers of sewage everywhere,” said Mr. Skau, the W.F.P. official.

As Israel continues operations in Gaza, it also is continuing to trade fire with militants from Hezbollah, a powerful militia backed by Iran that operates in southern Lebanon and has been striking areas in northern Israel in support of Hamas for months.

In recent days, the strikes by both Israel and Hezbollah have intensified, raising fears they could ignite another full-blown war.

On Monday, a White House official, Amos J. Hochstein, met in Israel with Mr. Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders as the Biden administration seeks to prevent a broader conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.

Mr. Hochstein will also meet with officials in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, according to John F. Kirby, the White House national security spokesman. “We don’t want to see escalation,” Mr. Kirby told reporters in Washington. “We don’t want to see a second front.”

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