JERUSALEM/DOHA/GAZA CITY (The Thursday Times) — Israel and Hamas have reached an agreement to initiate a four-day ceasefire, beginning at 10 AM local time on Thursday. This truce is a part of a larger deal involving the exchange of at least 50 civilian hostages in Gaza for Palestinian prisoners. The Israeli Prime Minister’s office confirmed the ceasefire, aiming to facilitate the initial release of 50 captives, with provisions for releasing up to 50 more in a subsequent phase.
This ceasefire, marking the longest halt in the ongoing conflict since Hamas’s attack on October 7, is also set to see a substantial influx of humanitarian aid into Gaza. Approximately 200 trucks of aid, including fuel, are expected daily, signifying a crucial humanitarian intervention in the region.
In tandem with the ceasefire, Israel will release up to 150 Palestinian women and children from its prisons, with a possibility of freeing an additional 150 in the second phase. The Israeli Justice Ministry has listed around 300 prisoners who could be included in this exchange.
Public opinion in Israel remains divided, with the Almagor Terror Victims Association already declaring its intent to appeal against the agreement. Despite such opposition, the process for releasing the hostages held in Gaza will proceed in stages over the four days, testing the durability of the truce.
Mousa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas political leader, confirmed the commencement time of the truce in a statement. A senior U.S. administration official also revealed that three Americans, including a young girl, are among those expected to be released in the first phase of the deal.
The negotiations for this agreement, facilitated by Qatar and involving U.S. and Israeli intelligence, were complex and protracted, with disagreements over various logistical and strategic aspects. U.S. President Joe Biden expressed gratitude for the efforts of Qatar and Egypt in reaching this agreement, emphasising its importance for ensuring the deal’s full execution.
Qatar has also affirmed its commitment to ongoing diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions between Israel and Hamas. Despite the initial demand by Hamas for a 10-day pause, the final agreement settled on a four-day ceasefire, subject to further negotiations and potential extensions.
If successful, this exchange could pave the way for more such agreements, possibly leading to the release of more Israeli civilians and foreign nationals in exchange for extending the pause in hostilities.
The humanitarian situation in Gaza remains dire, with over 1.7 million Palestinians displaced and living under catastrophic conditions. The announcement of this temporary truce brings little solace to an exhausted population, as highlighted by the experiences of displaced individuals like Samar Mosbah in Rafah.
The hostage situation has become a politically sensitive issue in Israel, with families of the captives pressing the government for action, while far-right politicians vehemently oppose any concessions to Hamas. The conflict has resulted in significant casualties on both sides, with Hamas’s October 7 attack killing about 1,200 people and the Israeli military campaign in Gaza causing close to 13,000 fatalities, as per respective official sources.