Gaza saw its first day of relative calm in months on Sunday, after Israel’s military said it would “pause” fighting daily around a southern route to facilitate aid flows, following repeated United Nations warnings of famine in the Palestinian territory.

“The first day of Eid al-Adha could almost be considered compared with the previous days,” Mahmud Basal, spokesman for the civil defense agency in Gaza, told AFP.

He said the exceptions included “some targeting” in Gaza City’s Shujaiya and Zeitun areas, as well as Israeli artillery fire in Rafah, southern Gaza.

AFP correspondents in Gaza’s north and center reported no fighting on Sunday morning, though they reported some shelling and at least one strike in Rafah and an air strike in central Gaza during the early evening.

The military stressed in a statement there was “no cessation of hostilities in the southern Gaza Strip.”

The announcement of a “local, tactical pause of military activity” during daylight hours in an area of Rafah came a day after eight Israeli soldiers were killed in a blast near the far-southern city and three more troops died elsewhere.

It was one of the heaviest losses for the army in more than eight months of war against Hamas militants.

‘Sudden calm’

“Since this morning, we’ve felt a sudden calm with no gunfire or bombings… It’s strange,” said 30-year-old Haitham al-Ghura from Gaza City.

The UN welcomed the Israeli move, although “this has yet to translate into more aid reaching people in need,” said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

He called for “further concrete measures by Israel to address longstanding issues” on aid needs.

Laerke told AFP Gazans “urgently need food, water, sanitation, shelter and health care, with many living near piles of solid waste, heightening health risks.”

“We need to be able to deliver aid safely throughout Gaza,” he added.

The UN and aid groups have repeatedly voiced alarm over dire shortages of food and other essentials in the Gaza Strip.

This has been exacerbated by overland access restrictions and the closure of the key Rafah crossing with Egypt since Israeli forces seized the Palestinian side in early May.

Israel has long defended its efforts to let aid into Gaza including via its Kerem Shalom border near Rafah, blaming militants for looting supplies and humanitarian workers for failing to distribute them to civilians.

The pause “for humanitarian purposes will take place from 8:00 AM (05:00 GMT) until 7:00 PM (16:00 GMT) every day until further notice along the road that leads from the Kerem Shalom crossing to the Salah al-Din road and then northwards,” a military statement said.

A map released by the army showed the declared humanitarian route extending until Rafah’s European Hospital, about 10 kilometers (six miles) from Kerem Shalom.

Somber Eid

The announcement came as Muslims the world over mark Eid al-Adha, or the feast of the sacrifice.

The military said the pause was already in effect as part of efforts to “increase the volumes of humanitarian aid” following discussions with the UN and other organizations.

Abu Obaida, spokesman for Hamas’s military wing, vowed to “continue our painful strikes against the enemy wherever it may be.”

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas following the Palestinian group’s unprecedented October 7 attack that resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized 251 hostages. Of these, 116 remain in Gaza, although the army says 41 are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,337 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s Health Ministry.

The latest toll includes at least 41 deaths over the previous 24 hours, it said.

Egyptian, Qatari and American mediators have been pushing for a new Gaza truce, so far without success.

With AFP