Israel and Hamas agree to breakthrough deal on hostage release and four-day truce

Nov 22, 2023 - 14:38
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Israel and Hamas agree to breakthrough deal on hostage release and four-day truce
Families and friends of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza hold signs calling for their release during a demonstration in Tel Aviv, Israel on Tuesday. (Ariel Schalit/AP)

By Adetokunbo FAKEYE 

Israel and Hamas have reached a deal for a four-day pause in fighting and the release of at least 50 women and children held hostage in Gaza, marking a major diplomatic breakthrough nearly seven weeks after the start of a conflict that has spiraled into a grave humanitarian crisis in the enclave.    

According to CNN report, the deal, as laid out by key negotiator Qatar in a statement, would see hostages held captive by Hamas released in exchange for a number of Palestinian women and children in Israeli jails. 

The truce, meanwhile, would also allow the entry of "a larger number of humanitarian convoys and relief aid", the statement said.

The starting time of the pause in fighting would be announced within the next 24 hours, the statement added.

Qatar’s lead negotiator Minister of State Mohammed Al-Khulaifi said the agreement should prompt the international community to "seize this brief window of opportunity to generate further momentum for the diplomatic track". 

The announcement has been greeted with relief and heightened anticipation from the families of those taken hostage, who now await further news about their loved ones.

Jordan’s foreign ministry said it hopes the foreign-mediated deal will be a “step” that leads to a “complete cessation of the war” in Gaza. In Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov welcomed the deal, saying that Moscow views it “positively” and describing it as “the first good news from Gaza in a very long time". 

Hamas is holding 239 hostages captive in Gaza, including foreign nationals from 26 countries, according to figures from the Israeli military. The mass abductions at gunpoint took place during October 7, when Hamas militants struck across the border in a coordinated and bloody surprise attack killing around 1,200 people – the largest such attack on Israel since the country’s founding in 1948.

Prior to the deal, only a handful of hostages had been released.

Israel responded to the attack by declaring war against Hamas and imposing a blockade on Gaza that cut off supplies of food, water, medicines and fuel, while launching a relentless air and ground assault. Some 12,700 people have been killed in Gaza since October 7, according to data from the Palestinian health ministry in the West Bank, which draws on information from Hamas-run health authorities.

The newly announced deal followed weeks of negotiations that included the United States and Egypt, and was approved by Israel’s cabinet in the early hours of Wednesday morning following a six-hour meeting an Israeli official described as "tense and emotional". 

Israel held out the potential for the truce to extend beyond the original four-day period, saying in a statement that an extra day would be added for each 10 additional hostages available for release. Some 150 Palestinian prisoners would be released over four days during the initial hostage release if terms are met, the government said.

The Israeli Cabinet Secretariat said that in the first phase, 150 security prisoners would be released in four stages over four days, with Palestinians being released subject to at least 10 Israeli abductees being handed over to Israeli security forces each day. Israel said there would be a lull in the fighting during those four days.

But it also made clear that Israel plans to resume its air and ground campaign “to complete the eradication of Hamas” once this round of hostage releases concludes.

The exact start time of the pause and details of where and how the hostages will be released remain unclear, with Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus telling CNN Wednesday morning that the military was still working out the exact timing for the pause.

"Until we are told to do so by the Israeli government, we will continue fighting Hamas and when such a deal will come into effect, we will respect that. But we will be very vigilant on the ground", Conricus said.

Source: CNN

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