Israel and Hamas reach a deal for a temporary ceasefire

Israel and Hamas have agreed on a deal for a temporary “humanitarian pause” in fighting.

Israel and Hamas reach a deal for a temporary ceasefire
An Israeli soldier sits in a HMMWV (Humvee), amid the ongoing ground operation of the Israeli army against Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in the northern Gaza Strip, November 22, 2023. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

The backstory: During its initial attack on Israel, the Gaza-based Hamas militant group killed about 1,200 Israelis and kidnapped around 240 hostages, according to Israel. Israel responded by bombarding Gaza with airstrikes and eventually staging a ground offensive. The fighting has continued in and around Gaza for over six weeks, and Israel’s ground offensive has been going strong. But, most of the hostages are still in captivity, even though the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has essentially taken over northern Gaza and Gaza City. Only four hostages have been released by Hamas so far, plus one IDF soldier. 

Palestinian health officials in Gaza are saying that they can’t even count the number of dead civilians in Gaza because the strip’s health system has partially collapsed, and it’s hard to find and count bodies from neighborhoods overrun by Israeli forces. The last time the death toll was recorded, it was over 11,000 people, but now they say it’s likely over 14,000. Over 1.6 million Palestinians in Gaza have been displaced. Israeli-settler violence in the West Bank has also risen. 

More recently: While many world leaders are calling for the hostages to be freed and Gazan civilians to have a chance to get to safer areas, not everyone is in agreement over a ceasefire. At the end of October, the UN called for a ceasefire from both Hamas and Israel in a formal resolution proposed by Jordan. The US – Israel’s biggest ally – voted against the resolution, as did Israel. The UK, South Korea, Germany, India, Australia, Canada and more abstained from voting entirely. Canada, the US and the UK have been vocal about rejecting the idea of a ceasefire for a few reasons – one being that they don’t trust Hamas to obey the international laws of a ceasefire, and another being that they believe Israel has the right to defend itself (within the scope of international law) after the October 7 attacks.

Polls show that the majority of Canadians, Americans, and British populations support a ceasefire. There have also been major protests all over the world calling for one, including a London demonstration of 300,000 people. Even without a ceasefire on the horizon, there have been some mediated negotiations in Qatar over a deal to pause the fighting and free some of the hostages, and a lot of pressure has been on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to come through with some kind of agreement.

The development: Israel and Hamas have agreed on a deal for a temporary “humanitarian pause” in fighting. A four-day truce will be held between the two, and 50 hostages taken by Hamas will be returned, and 150 Palestinian prisoners (mostly women and children) will also be released. But the ceasefire won't go into effect before Friday, according to the Israel National Security Council, as no hostages are being released before then. 

After the temporary truce is over, though, Israel says it’ll continue its campaign in Gaza, and Hamas also promises to keep fighting. But it also says it’s willing to extend the deal up to five more days and free another 150 Palestinian prisoners/detainees if Hamas frees 50 more Israeli hostages – bringing the total number of freed people to 100 Israelis and 300 Palestinians. The four-day pause will allow more desperately needed humanitarian aid into Gaza, too. But, the deal is not a ceasefire because it’s not designed to pause the fighting for the sake of creating a peace deal. It’s just an agreement to help civilians caught in the conflict. 

Key comments:

Referring to the pause, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet: “There is nonsense out there suggesting that we will halt the war after the ceasefire to return the hostages. I would like to make it clear. We are at war, and we will continue the war until we achieve all our goals: eliminate Hamas, return all the hostages and missing, and guarantee that there will be no threat to Israel in Gaza.”

Hamas said, "our hands will remain on the trigger, and our winning battalions will remain in control to defend our people and defeat occupation and aggression."

"Our role is to facilitate the implementation, once the parties agree," the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

Qatar's chief negotiator, Minister of State at the Foreign Ministry Mohammed Al-Khulaifi, said that he hopes this deal “will be a seed to a bigger agreement and a permanent cease of fire … That's our intention.”