Israel has agreed to move forward with daily four-hour pauses of military operations in areas of northern Gaza, the White House said Thursday.
The move appears to formalize a pattern of halting the violence to allow humanitarian aid to flow into the enclave and to allow civilians to flee away from the fighting.
Israel will announce the timing of the pauses three hours beforehand, according to John Kirby, a spokesperson for the US National Security Council.
“We’ve been told by the Israelis that there will be no military operations in these areas over the duration of the pause, and that this process is starting today,” Kirby said.
The US welcomed the development, calling the pauses “steps in the right direction.”
“We have been urging the Israelis to minimize civilian casualties and to do everything that they can to reduce those numbers,” Kirby said, saying the pauses would provide “breathing space for a few hours” for civilians to move out of harm’s way.
The pauses would also provide “brief windows of opportunity” for the potential safe passage of hostages being held by Hamas, Kirby said.
Biden pushing for longer pauses: US President Joe Biden told reporters Thursday that he’s been advocating for a humanitarian pause longer than three days.
“We’re hopeful. Things are moving along,” Biden said of the process to free the more than 200 hostages, including some Americans, still held in Gaza.
Asked whether he asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a pause of three days to help facilitate this process, he said, “I’ve been asking for a pause for a lot more than three days. Yes,” later adding, “I’ve asked for even a longer pause, for some of them.”
Biden downplayed concerns over whether Netanyahu is listening to the US, but acknowledged the process has “taken a little longer than I hoped.”
Exodus from northern Gaza: For the past several days, Israel has paused violence in Gaza for hours-long windows during which civilians can evacuate south.
Since Wednesday, “many thousands” of people have been able to flee the northern part of the enclave through an evacuation corridor, Deputy US State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said. Many of them traveled miles on foot through the battered enclave in a growing exodus as Israel intensified its ground and air campaign.
The Israel Defense Forces extended Thursday’s evacuation window to six hours to allow people to flee south.
Evacuees told CNN they feared that nowhere was safe within the enclave.
The US State Department said there is a second route along the coast that “will enable many more thousands to reach safer areas in the south.” Patel said the US is “continuing to work closely with our Israeli partners to address and remain vigilant about efforts from Hamas to discourage and prevent civilians from fleeing this area.”
Patel also said that on Wednesday, 106 trucks of humanitarian aid were able to flow into Gaza through the Rafah crossing. He said that while the Rafah crossing had been closed due to security issues, “our understanding at this point is that it is open for the influx of aid and also for foreign nationals to depart.”
CNN’s Betsy Klein, Arlette Saenz, Abeer Salman and Haley Britzky contributed reporting to this post.