JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel and Hamas have reached an agreement for a four-day halt to the devastating war in Gaza,…
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel and Hamas have reached an agreement for a four-day halt to the devastating war in Gaza, accompanied by the release of dozens of hostages held by the militant group in exchange for Palestinians held by Israel, officials said. announced the mediators on Wednesday.
The truce marks the biggest diplomatic breakthrough since Hamas’s rampage in southern Israel on Oct. 7 sparked a war that has devastated large swathes of Gaza and raised fears of a wider conflict in the Middle East.
Persian Gulf country Qatar, which played a key role in mediating with Hamas, announced the agreement without specifying when it would come into force. Fifty hostages will be released in stages, in exchange for what Hamas estimates are 150 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
The two sides will first release women and children, and the supply of humanitarian aid to the besieged territory will be intensified, officials said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would resume the war after the truce and continue fighting “until we achieve all of our goals,” including the defeat of Hamas.
Residents of Gaza City said fighting there intensified overnight Wednesday, with gunfire, heavy artillery and airstrikes in central neighborhoods.
“They are crazy. Apparently they want to move forward before the truce,” said Nasser al-Sheikh, who lives with relatives in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood.
A DIPLOMATIC BREAKTHROUGH
The announcement caps weeks of Qatar-led indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seized Gaza from the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority in 2007. The United States and Egypt also participated to intermittent talks to liberate some of the occupied territories. the approximately 240 hostages captured by Hamas and other militants during the October 7 raid.
President Joe Biden welcomed the agreement, saying Netanyahu had pledged to support an “extended pause” to ensure hostages were released and humanitarian aid could be sent to Gaza.
Qatar’s Prime Minister and top diplomat Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said he hoped the deal would ultimately lead to a permanent ceasefire and “serious talks” on resolving the Israeli conflict -Palestinian.
Israel said the truce would be extended by an additional day for every 10 additional hostages released by Hamas. The International Committee of the Red Cross said it stood ready to assist with any exchanges.
Israel’s Justice Ministry released a list of 300 detainees eligible for release under the deal, mostly teenagers arrested last year for rock-throwing and other minor crimes. Under Israeli law, the public has 24 hours to object to any release.
WILL THE WAR RESUME?
As the extent of the damage becomes known and the hostages are freed, pressure could increase on Israel to end its war without achieving its goal of crushing Hamas. Even the United States, Israel’s main supporter, has expressed concerns about the heavy toll imposed on Gaza’s civilian population.
Despite the massive destruction in Gaza and the killing of thousands of Palestinian civilians, Hamas leader Yehya Sinwar will likely present the release of the prisoners – seen by most Palestinians as heroes resisting the occupation – as a major achievement, and will declare victory if the war ends without removing Hamas from power.
In a statement Wednesday, Hamas said hundreds of trucks carrying humanitarian aid – including fuel – would be allowed into Gaza. He said Israeli planes would stop flying over southern Gaza for the duration of the four-day ceasefire and for six hours a day in the north.
War broke out in early October, when several thousand Hamas militants broke through Israel’s formidable defenses and invaded the south, killing at least 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and capturing dozens more. Israel responded with weeks of devastating airstrikes on Gaza, followed by a ground invasion.
More than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli offensive, according to the Hamas-controlled territory’s health ministry, which says it is no longer able to keep a count due to the collapse of the health sector. in the north. It does not differentiate between civilians and militants, although about two-thirds of the dead have been identified as women and minors.
The invasion caused widespread destruction in northern Gaza, including Gaza City, displaced more than 1.7 million people and caused severe shortages of food, medicine and other basic necessities. necessity throughout the territory. Israel cut off all fuel imports at the start of the war, causing a nationwide power outage.
Israel has rejected growing international criticism and vowed to move forward until it destroys Hamas’s military and government capabilities and all hostages are freed.
AGREEMENT COULD DIVIDE ISRAELI
The return of the hostages could boost morale in Israel, where the plight of the captives has gripped the country. The airwaves are full of interviews with the families of the hostages, who include babies and toddlers, women and children, and octogenarians with health problems.
Families have become a powerful force in Israel, organizing protests and pressuring the government to repatriate their loved ones. But they could also find themselves divided as some hostages are released and others remain in Gaza. The soldiers will likely be the last to be released, and their families could pressure the government to extend the truce until they return home.
Ofri Bibas Levy, whose brother, sister-in-law and two nephews – aged 4 and 10 months – are among the prisoners, said the deal put the families in an “inhumane” situation. His brother, 34, should not be among the first groups released.
“Who will be released, who will not? Will the children be released? Will they be released with their mothers or not? she told The Associated Press before the deal was announced. “No matter how this happens, there will always be families who remain worried, sad and angry. »
PAUSE COULD HELP Hamas Regroup
The structure of the agreement could limit Israel’s ability to continue its offensive, even after the truce expires.
Any pause would give Hamas a chance to regroup after suffering heavy losses, especially if it drags things out with further hostage releases. Israeli troops and tanks are expected to remain in place, despite the risks of remaining stationed behind enemy lines.
Israel claims to have killed thousands of Hamas fighters, but has not presented evidence, and destroyed parts of the group’s tunnel system. But Israeli officials acknowledge that much of Hamas’ infrastructure remains intact. The military says 68 soldiers were killed in ground operations.
Around three-quarters of Gaza’s population has been uprooted from their homes, with most crowded into overcrowded and unsanitary shelters.
Many, if not most, will not be able to return home due to the widespread damage in the north and the continued presence of Israeli troops. This could lead to an even worse humanitarian disaster as the cold and rainy winter sets in.
Iran-backed armed groups in the Middle East have been drawn into the war, with Lebanon’s Hezbollah exchanging daily fire with Israel along the border and Yemen’s Houthi rebels launching drones and missiles and seizing a linked cargo ship to Israel.
Violence has also increased in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where more than 200 Palestinians have been killed, mainly in shootings sparked by Israeli army raids.
Goldenberg reported from Tel Aviv, Israel and Magdy from Cairo. Associated Press journalist Najib Jobain in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip; Wafaa Shurafa in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip; and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed.
Full AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war.
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