Israel to pause fighting, prisoners to be released

Families and friends of about 240 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza call for Israeli to bring them home during a demonstration in Tel Aviv, Israel, 21 November 2023.

Some hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip following the militant group’s attack last month on Israel could be released as early as today (Thursday), after an agreement announced by Qatar that includes Israeli forces pausing their attacks on Gaza for four days.

Qatar said Hamas would release 50 women and children, while Israel would also release “a number of Palestinian women and children detained in Israeli prisons.”

The agreement announced early Wednesday came after weeks of negotiations led by Qatar, the United States (US) and Egypt, according to a senior US administration official.

The US official said the hostages released by Hamas were expected to include several Americans.

“I thank sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani of Qatar and president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi of Egypt for their critical leadership and partnership in reaching this deal,” US president Joe Biden said in a statement.

“And I appreciate the commitment that prime minister Netanyahu and his government have made in supporting an extended pause to ensure this deal can be fully carried out and to ensure the provision of additional humanitarian assistance to alleviate the suffering of innocent Palestinian families in Gaza.”

Israel began its military campaign to wipe out Hamas after Hamas fighters crossed into southern Israel on 7 October.

Israel said 1 200 people were killed and some 240 captives taken in the terror attack. Gaza health officials say more than 12 000 Palestinians, including at least 5 000 children, have been confirmed killed in Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

An Israeli government statement said an extra day would be added to the pause for every additional 10 hostages Hamas releases.

The US senior administration official said more than 50 women and children are among the hostages, and that ultimately the goal is to get all the hostages out of Gaza.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to bring back all of the hostages, while reiterating to Cabinet members that Israel’s goal is to eliminate Hamas and ensure the militant group can no longer threaten Israel.

The Israeli pause in fighting will allow for more humanitarian convoys to bring aid into Gaza, including fuel for humanitarian efforts, Qatar said.

Levels of aid reaching Gaza have been severely limited compared to what was reaching the enclave before the conflict began.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said 79 trucks reached the Palestinian enclave on Tuesday, bringing the total during the past month to 1 399 truckloads of aid.

The agency said an average of 10 000 truckloads of commercial and humanitarian commodities were reaching Gaza each month prior to the conflict.

The United Nations (UN) says more than 1,7 million people are displaced within Gaza, including 930 000 people staying at over-capacity UN-run shelters.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell welcomed the agreement and called for the release of all hostages held by Hamas.

“The humanitarian pause must be used to provide as much urgently needed aid as possible to the civilians enduring the devastating war in Gaza,” Borrell said in a statement.

French foreign minister Catherine Colonna also welcomed the deal, telling France Inter radio that France hopes French nationals are among those released.

In Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the deal the “first good news” in a long time regarding the conflict.

British foreign secretary David Cameron hailed the agreement as “a crucial step towards providing relief to the families of the hostages and addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza”. – VOA

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