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by Mick the Ram
Following weeks of negotiating, it has been agreed that there will be a four-day pause in the fighting in Gaza between Israeli forces and the Islamist militant group, Hamas, allowing much needed aid into the stricken area.
It will begin on Thursday 23 November, and during that time 50 of the Israeli hostages will be released, in return for Israel releasing 150 Palestinian women and children from detention. It is expected that all of the 50 hostages to be returned will be of Israeli nationality or dual nationals, non it is thought will be foreign nationals.
In a second part of the agreement brokered by Qatar, and assisted by the US and Egypt, the pause in hostilities can be extended by one day for every 10 further hostages released. In return, Israel will release up to another 150 Palestinian detainees, should as many as 50 hostages be returned from captivity in Gaza.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was however, quick to stress that this would not signal
the beginning of the end of the war, which he insisted will continue until all hostages are returned home, and there was “complete the elimination of Hamas”.
Six weeks of devastation
This will be the first lull in the conflict since war erupted nearly seven weeks ago, on 7 October. It was then that Hamas militants attacked southern Israeli communities near the border with Gaza, killing 1,200 innocent people, and taking 240 others hostage.
In retaliation Israel began an all-out offensive on Gaza to recover their captured citizens and destroy the Hamas regime. Initially with a sustained bombing campaign, followed by a large-scale ground attack, the Israeli military have retaken large swaths of the north of Gaza, with a reported 13,000 people killed in the process.
Qatar the brokers
Hostage talks began almost immediately with Qatar acting as mediators, with assistance from Egypt and then the US.
As the weeks have passed by and the numbers of dead and pictures of innocent civilians being subjected to terrible suffering, international pressure has been mounting to allow a pause, so that the humanitarian situation, which is described by the United Nations as dire, can receive much needed food aid, medical supplies and urgent fuel.
Hospital used as a shield
Hamas are. The Israelis have in recent days taken control of the main Al Shifa hospital in Gaza, a facility in which Hamas – who are backed by Iran and are designated as a terrorist organisation by both the US and the European Union – are understood to have cruelly exploited turning it into a command centre, with underground tunnels and using the sick and injured as human shields.
List published of potential Palestinians up for release
Israel has published a list of 300 Palestinians who could be released in total, 274 of those being male teenagers, with offences ranging from the mild throwing of stones and association with an illegal organisation, up to arson, creating explosive or incendiary devices, and attempted murder.
There are actually more than 7,000 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.
Fear that not all will return
The likelihood is that Hamas will try to gain as many days as possible so will probably drip-feed the release of hostages, to enable themselves to re-group.
Many experience commentators fear that it is unlikely all of the hostages will get back; indeed many could already have been killed. Obviously vital information will be gathered from the first batch of hostages to be returned, which could impact the deal.
Biden offers thanks
US President Joe Biden said he was “extraordinarily gratified” that some of the hostages who have endured “weeks of captivity and an unspeakable ordeal” will be reunited with their families once the deal is implemented.
He thanked the leaders of Qatar and Egypt for what he called their “critical leadership and partnership” in reaching the agreement. He also recognised the the “commitment” of the Israeli PM to supporting a pause in fighting, and insisted that “It is important now that all aspects of this deal are fully implemented.”
Qatar’s unlikely hope
Qatar’s PM also thanked his fellow negotiators – the US and Egypt – for helping them broker the pause in fighting. Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani said he hoped the agreement would establish a “comprehensive and sustainable agreement” that would “put an end to the war and the bloodshed”.
Elimination still the objective
Unfortunately that does seem unlikely given the statement released by Mr Netanyahu, who initially credited Mr Biden with improving the terms of the agreement, so that it had “more hostages and lower costs”.
However, he reiterated the country’s stance when he insisted that “We will continue until we reach our objective, which is to eliminate Hamas and guarantee that there remains no element in Gaza to threaten the Sate of Israel and its people.”