Israel and Hamas agree on 4-day truce upon exchange of hostages, Palestinian prisoners

Published November 22, 2023
A Palestinian boy stands amidst the rubble of a building following Israeli strikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 22, 2023. — AFP
A Palestinian boy stands amidst the rubble of a building following Israeli strikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 22, 2023. — AFP
Palestinians check the rubble of a building following Israeli strikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 22, 2023. — AFP
Palestinians check the rubble of a building following Israeli strikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 22, 2023. — AFP
This picture taken from a position in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip shows smoke billowing in the the Palestinian territory after an Israeli strike on November 21, 2023. — AFP
This picture taken from a position in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip shows smoke billowing in the the Palestinian territory after an Israeli strike on November 21, 2023. — AFP

Israel’s government and Hamas agreed on Wednesday to a four-day truce to allow the release of some hostages held in Gaza in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned in Israel, and the entry of humanitarian aid into the besieged enclave.

Hamas political bureau member Mousa Abu Marzouq told Al Jazeera that the truce is expected to start at 10am (08:00 GMT) on Thursday.

“There will be a ceasefire in all regions of Gaza Strip. There will be no war planes or air traffic in Gaza from 10am to 4pm,” he said.


Under the 4-day truce:

  • 50 Israeli hostages to be released
  • 150 Palestinians freed from jail
  • no military operation for four days
  • Israel to allow more relief aid

In a statement, mediator Qatar called the agreement a “humanitarian pause”.

A statement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said 50 women and children will be released over four days, during which there will be a pause in fighting.

For every additional 10 hostages released, the pause would be extended by another day, it said, without mentioning the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange. However, Israel’s justice ministry published a list of 300 names of Palestinian prisoners who could be freed.

“Israel’s government is committed to returning all the hostages home. Tonight, it approved the proposed deal as a first stage to achieving this goal,” said the statement, released after hours of deliberation that were closed to the press.

Hamas said the initial 50 hostages would be released in exchange for 150 Palestinian women and children held in Israeli jails. Hundreds of trucks of humanitarian, medical and fuel supplies would enter Gaza, while Israel would halt all air sorties over southern Gaza and maintain a daily six-hour daytime no-fly window in the north, it said.

Israel had committed not to attack or arrest anyone in all parts of Gaza during the truce period, it added.

US President Joe Biden said he welcomed the deal. “Today’s deal should bring home additional American hostages, and I will not stop until they are all released,” he said in a statement.

The accord is the first truce of a conflict in which Israeli bombardments have flattened swathes of Gaza, killed 13,300 civilians in the tiny densely populated enclave and left about two-thirds of its 2.3 million people homeless.

Pending the start of the truce there was no let-up in fighting. As morning broke, smoke from explosions could be seen rising above northern Gaza in live Reuters video from across the fence.

Israel’s military released footage of soldiers shooting in narrow alleyways and said it had carried out airstrikes. Its “forces continue to operate within the Strip’s territory to destroy terrorist infrastructure, eliminate terrorists and locate weaponry”, it said.

‘What truce can there be?’

“What truce can there be after what happened to us? We are all are dead people,” said Mona, a woman in Gaza whose nieces and nephews were among those killed by an Israeli air strike that hit the home of the Seyam family.

“This will not bring back what we lost, will not heal our hearts or make up for the tears we shed.”

Kamelia Hoter Ishay, whose 13-year-old granddaughter Gali Tarashansky is believed held in Gaza, said she would not believe reports of a deal until she got a call that the girl was freed.

“And then I’ll know that it’s really over and I can breathe a sigh of relief and say that’s it, it’s over,” she said.

“We hope the truce will happen and there will be good solutions, and we hope people will live peacefully, return to their homes and workplaces with stability,” said Abu Jihad Shameya, a displaced man from north Gaza who had taken refuge in the main southern city Khan Younis.

“May God not prolong this hardship.”

Qatar’s chief negotiator in ceasefire talks, Minister of State at the Foreign Ministry Mohammed Al-Khulaifi, told Reuters that the International Committee of the Red Cross would be working inside Gaza to facilitate the hostages’ release.

He said that the truce means there would be “no attack whatsoever. No military movements, no expansion, nothing.”

Al-Khulaifi added that Qatar hopes the deal “will be a seed to a bigger agreement and a permanent cease of fire. And that’s our intention.”

Hamas has to date released only four captives: US citizens Judith Raanan, 59, and her daughter, Natalie Raanan, 17, on Oct. 20, citing “humanitarian reasons,” and Israeli women Nurit Cooper, 79, and Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, on Oct 23.

Misgivings

Ahead of the vote, Netanyahu had faced a revolt from within his right-wing coalition, some of whom believed the agreement would give too much to Palestinian fighters responsible for the worst attack in Israel’s history.

Hardline Minister for National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir indicated he would vote against the agreement, saying it should include the release of Israeli soldiers.

Hamas raids on October 7 killed an estimated 1,200 people and seized 240 hostages, civilians and military, who are believed to be held in Gaza.

The bloody attacks sparked Operation “Swords of Iron” — Israel’s punishing air and ground on Gaza, which Palestinian authorities say has killed 14,100 people, mostly women and children.

But with dozens of families in Israel and beyond desperate to have their loved ones returned home, and the Israeli public gripped by the hostages’ fate, the government set aside any misgivings.

Israel’s powerful Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said before the crunch meeting that he had won assurances that the deal would not spell the end of the war to destroy Hamas.

Netanyahu said Israel’s broader mission was unchanged.

“We are at war and we will continue the war until we achieve all our goals. To destroy Hamas, return all our hostages and ensure that no entity in Gaza can threaten Israel,” he said in a recorded message at the start of the government meeting.

Hamas said in its statement: “As we announce the striking of a truce agreement, we affirm that our fingers remain on the trigger, and our victorious fighters will remain on the lookout to defend our people and defeat the occupation.”

International pressure

Israel has come under intense international pressure to implement a humanitarian ceasefire. But in recent days it has pressed its offensive into northern Gaza.

The Israeli military said air strikes had hit “around 250” Hamas targets in the past day, destroying three underground shafts in the Jabalia area, which it said it had fully surrounded.

At Jabalia’s Indonesian Hospital, the Gaza health ministry said strikes had killed dozens, but there was no independent confirmation of the toll.

The Israeli army said later its troops had “directly targeted” the source of fire from within the Indonesian Hospital.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said three doctors, including two it employed, were killed in an Israeli strike on the Al-Awda hospital in Jabalia refugee camp.

Israel claims Hamas uses medical facilities to hide fighters and as bases for operations, making them legitimate military objectives while insisting it does everything possible to limit harm to civilians.

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — the so-called BRICS group — on Tuesday called for an immediate and sustained humanitarian truce in Gaza, during a virtual summit where the chair.

The chair of the meeting, South Africa, accused Israel of war crimes and “genocide”.

Chinese President Xi Jinping demanded during the summit the release of civilian detainees and a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, state media said.

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