The move appeared 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.
For the past several days, Israel has paused violence for hours-long windows where it allows civilians to evacuate south. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted in a statement Thursday evening that there would be “no ceasefire” without the release of hostages held by Hamas.
John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesman, cast the agreement to allow four-hour pauses as a positive “first step” in easing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. He said Israel would announce the timing of the pauses three hours beforehand.
“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, calling it “steps in the right direction.”
Speaking shortly after at Joint Base Andrews, President Joe Biden said he had pressured Netanyahu to agree to significantly longer pauses in the violence, including during a phone call on Monday.
“I’ve been asking for a pause for a lot more than three days,” Biden told reporters, adding later: “I’ve asked for even a longer pause for some of them.”
And asked if he was frustrated with Netanyahu for the back-and-forth on humanitarian pauses, Biden hinted at some discord.
“It’s taken a little longer than I hoped,” he said.
Kirby said Israel’s decision to allow four-hour pauses came after “an awful lot of engagement by the administration to try to make sure that humanitarian assistance could get in and people could get out safely.” He added that the pauses would provide “brief windows of opportunity” for safe passage of hostages being held by Hamas.
“We have been urging the Israelis to minimize civilian casualties and to do everything that they can to reduce those numbers,” Kirby said, saying they would provide “breathing space for a few hours” for civilians to move out of harm’s way.
Israel has been warning civilians to move to southern Gaza as it attacks targets in the north, a task that has proven difficult – if not impossible – for many Palestinians in the enclave. Civilians have not been able to leave Gaza in large numbers since the war began; groups of foreign nationals and some injured Palestinians were allowed out of the enclave recently.
In a series of posts to social media platform X Thursday, Biden outlined the daily pauses Israel has agreed to and his administration’s efforts, citing the opening of a second safe passage for civilians seeking to flee the conflict in Gaza and trucks of aid successfully delivered to the war-torn region.
The president called on Israel “to distinguish between terrorists and civilians and fully comply with international law” in its fight against Hamas, adding that the pauses are “a step in the right direction.”
A senior Israeli official told CNN the Israelis are calling these four-hour windows “tactical localized pauses” that every day will be in a specific area. A neighborhood or area will be given several hours’ notice that they will have a pause to give people in the north the ability to travel south for aid and relief.
Israeli strikes continue in southern Gaza and southern neighborhoods may also get notices of pauses so residents can go out and get relief as well, the official said.
The official argued that seeing people leaving northern Gaza in the last few days to head south is an indication that Hamas is losing its grip.
Asked when these pauses will start, the official said “really soon.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken had an agreement in principle on the pauses after his meetings in Israel last week, even though Netanyahu came out against the idea of humanitarian pauses on Friday, US officials told CNN. That was seen as the Israeli prime minister playing to his coalition and the officials noted it was similar to when the Israeli government opposed humanitarian aid getting into Gaza before deciding to allow it.
“Every step of this is like pulling teeth,” one official said.
Although Israel had already been instituting such pauses, American officials see this agreement as progress because the Israelis are using the language of “pauses,” which is something the US believes it can build on. There’s also a sense among the US administration that the announcement adds some accountability if Israel violates the agreement, because the Israelis can’t claim they never agreed to it.
Kirby added that the US would like to see the daily pauses continue for as long as humanitarian assistance in Gaza is needed.
This story has been updated with additional reporting.