Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a Health Ministry-organised appreciation ceremony for health system personnel and partner agencies for their contribution against the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, in Jerusalem on June 6, 2021. (AFP/Menahem Kahana)
Israel’s government and Hamas agreed on Wednesday to a four-day pause in fighting to allow the release of 50 hostages held in Gaza in exchange for 150 Palestinians imprisoned in Israel, and the entry of humanitarian aid into the besieged enclave.
Officials from Qatar, which has been mediating secret negotiations, as well as the US, Israel and Hamas have for days been saying a deal was imminent.
Hamas is believed to be holding more than 200 hostages, taken when its fighters surged into Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies.
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.
“Israel’s government is committed to return 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 50 hostages would be released in exchange for 150 Palestinian women and children who are held in Israeli jails. The truce deal will also allow hundreds of trucks of humanitarian, medical and fuel aid to enter Gaza, the Palestinian group said in a statement.
Israel had committed not to attack or arrest anyone in all parts of Gaza during the truce period, it added.
The Qatar government said 50 civilian women and children hostages would be released from Gaza in exchange for the release “of a number of Palestinian women and children held in Israeli prisons”.
The starting time of the truce would be announced within the next 24 hours, it said in a statement.
The accord is the first truce of a war in which Israeli bombardments have flattened swathes of Hamas-ruled Gaza, killed 13,300 civilians in the tiny densely populated enclave and left about two-thirds of its 2.3 million people homeless, according to authorities in Gaza.
Before gathering with his full government, Netanyahu met on Tuesday with his war cabinet and wider national security cabinet over the deal.
Ahead of the announcement of the deal, Netanyahu said the intervention of US President Joe Biden had helped to improve the tentative agreement so that it included more hostages and fewer concessions.
But Netanyahu said Israel’s broader mission had not changed.
“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 look out to defend our people and defeat the occupation.”
● Wed, November 22, 2023