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Israel to pause fighting from morning to evening along an aid corridor into Gaza

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Israel has announced a daily pause in fighting along an aid corridor in Gaza. It's a rare step in nearly nine months of war. The idea is to increase the amount of food and supplies getting to civilians in Gaza at a critical point in the Israel-Hamas war. NPR's Daniel Estrin visited Israel's border with Gaza today and sent this report.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Piles of food sit under the hot sun, surrounded by cement walls. They're dried goods at the Israeli border, waiting to be taken into southern Gaza.

I see chicken curry flavor, Vienna ice coffee, packets of white sugar, fava beans, canned fava beans.

This bottleneck with the aid began when Israel launched its ground offensive against Hamas in southern Gaza last month. Egypt refused to let aid through its border because Israeli soldiers took over the Gaza side of the crossing. And the U.S. has suspended shipments of food by sea because stormy weather has disrupted the pier the U.S. built off the Gaza coast. Now aid is being funneled through this Israeli crossing, Kerem Shalom, but it's an active combat zone, and it's difficult for United Nations aid workers to safely collect the aid and distribute it in Gaza. Jonathan Fowler is with the main U.N. aid agency in Gaza, UNRWA.

JONATHAN FOWLER: Distribution has, you know, is extremely erratic within the Gaza strip because of the sort of safety situation on the ground. You know, this is a hot war zone. And humanitarians come to sort of move around into places where they're putting their lives at risk.

ESTRIN: He says there are other challenges to distributing aid. The Israeli offensive in southern Gaza has sent nearly a million Palestinians scattering to different areas, not concentrated in the Rafah area, as they had been before. And there's lawlessness in Gaza and frequent looting of aid trucks.

FOWLER: When colleagues in Gaza talk about convoys being stormed and people eating food on the spot, well, I mean, that illustrates the nature of the problem.

ESTRIN: For all these reasons, there's been a huge drop in food and supplies getting into Gaza this past month. So this weekend, Israel announced a daily pause in fighting, from morning to evening, along the seven-mile aid delivery route to make it easier for the U.N. to collect and distribute the aid. The Israeli military brought reporters to this border crossing to make that point. Defense spokesman Shimon Friedman.

SHIMON FRIEDMAN: We are, of course, aware of the fact that distributing aid in a combat zone presents challenges. We're opening this route for them where they can move without needing to coordinate every time and where there will be military presence along the way. And this will allow them to distribute additional aid. And we hope to see the U.N. taking advantage of this additional step that we've taken.

ESTRIN: This decision to pause fighting along the aid corridor did not go over well in Israel, where it was portrayed as the army going soft after a weekend when several Israeli soldiers were killed in Gaza. A senior far-right cabinet minister said, whoever made the decision is a fool. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed he opposed it, but the army said the pause in combat along the aid route was a direct order from the government to ensure more aid gets into southern Gaza. The International Court of Justice has ordered Israel to protect Palestinian civilians from harm in southern Gaza. The World Food Program says it fears southern Gaza could soon see the same catastrophic levels of hunger previously seen in northern Gaza. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, the Kerem Shalom border crossing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Daniel Estrin
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.