A deal that would see some of the 240 hostages kidnapped by Hamas on October 7 released in exchange for a pause of Israel’s offensive in Gaza is beginning to take shape. According to AFP and Reuters, the deal is being mediated by Qatar — which has contacts with Hamas — and would involve the release of between 10 and 15 hostages. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that it could be finalized as soon as Thursday.
In exchange for the hostages, Israel would have to suspend its attacks on the Gaza Strip for a period of between one and three days. “We came a long way. We haven’t yet reached the finish line, but unlike previous talks, there is optimism,” a source told the Israeli newspaper, adding that half of those set to be released have a U.S. passport. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the reports of a possible agreement “idle rumors” and insisted that there will be no ceasefire without the release of hostages.
Hours before Netanyahu’s words, the G7 foreign ministers called for “humanitarian pauses” and “humanitarian corridors” to facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza, which is governed by Hamas. But neither Israel nor its main ally, the United States, support a ceasefire, which was left out of the G-7 joint agreement. Both believe that this would help the rearmament of Hamas.
While these negotiations are taking place, the war continues, with the north of Gaza as the front line of the attacks. Israel, which claims to have already destroyed 130 Hamas tunnels, has shown images of thousands of people allegedly walking south through an open corridor for five hours. It estimates that just on Wednesday, 50,000 people fled their homes due to the fighting, which, according to Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant, has reached the very “heart” of Gaza City, the main bastion of Hamas.
The Palestinian Red Crescent reported that the Al-Quds hospital, one of the largest in Gaza, has begun to reduce its operations in an attempt to rationalize the scarce fuel it has available. The Red Cross denounced that a convoy of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) — which had been carrying aid for different health centers, including Al Quds — was attacked on Tuesday. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said on Wednesday that the high number of civilian deaths — more than 10,500, according to Gaza authorities — means that something is “clearly wrong,” in a new criticism of the Israeli response to the October 7 attacks.
The comments come after Netanyahu said on Monday that Israel intends to have “indefinite” control over Gaza after the war. This would not necessarily mean that Israel would remain in Gaza, as it did until 2005, but some of the most radical ministers have made reference to this period. In a radio interview, Education Minister Yoav Kisch said Israel could reoccupy Gaza with settlements as it did until that year, according to statements to the army radio. And Minister of Environmental Protection Idit Silma has approved the establishment of a new community called Hanon, which will be built four miles from Gaza in the area where Hamas committed its attacks, according to Haaretz.
What most of the international community agrees on is that Hamas cannot continue to rule Gaza. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that a “transitional period” will be needed and called for unity among the different factions in the Palestinian Authority (PA). He added that Israel should not reoccupy Gaza after the war, nor reduce the size of the territory nor displace the population.
The solution, according to Blinken, must “include the Palestinian people’s voices and aspirations” and “Palestinian-led governance and Gaza unified with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority.”
The president of the PA, Mahmud Abbas, discussed the issue for the first time on Sunday, saying that he would be willing to play a role in the political solution for Gaza if it also included the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Violence in the West Bank
On Wednesday, top diplomats from the G7 — which is made up of the U.S., Britain, Canada, Germany, Japan and Italy — issued a joint statement calling for “humanitarian pauses to facilitate urgently needed assistance, civilian movement and release of hostages.” The statement also condemned the “terrorist” attacks by Hamas on October 7 and defended “Israel’s right to defend itself and its people, in accordance with international law, as it seeks to prevent a recurrence.”
The G-7 also called for action to tackle the wave of violence in the occupied West Bank. “The rise in extremist settler violence committed against Palestinians is unacceptable, undermines security in the West Bank, and threatens prospects for a lasting peace,” the statement read. So far this year, attacks have increased by 133% compared to the previous year, according to a report by Al-Haq, a group of 20 Palestinian human rights organizations, which has been working in Ramallah (capital of the West Bank) since 1979.
The report stated that between October 7 and November 6, Israeli settlers killed at least nine Palestinians, including at least one child, and injured 62 Palestinians. Al-Haq added that Israeli forces killed at least 147 Palestinians in the West Bank, including at least 44 children. According to the human rights organization, Israeli settlers are organizing via social media to disrupt Palestinians in the middle of the olive harvest. The report makes reference to Bilal Saleh, a farmer from the West Bank town of Sawiya on October 28, who was shot dead by a settler.
More than 500,000 Israeli settlers are living in the West Bank, mostly on illegal settlements. On Wednesday, Netanyahu met with the mayors of West Bank settlements, and said that a “tiny handful of extremists” were carrying out violence against Palestinians, and that they will be dealt with.
Crackdown in Israel
Meanwhile on Wednesday, the Israeli Parliament approved an amendment to the current Counter-Terrorism Law that makes the “consumption of terrorist materials” — in particular content related to Hamas and ISIS — a criminal offense. Human rights organizations argue it is an attempt to restrict freedom of expression and persecutes the Israeli Arab population, which makes up 20% of the country.
“This law is one of the most intrusive and draconian legislative measures ever passed,” said Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, which is planning to take it to court. “This legislation encroaches upon the sacred realm of an individual’s personal thoughts and beliefs and significantly amplifies state surveillance of social media use.”
Israel’s High Court of Justice also rejected on Wednesday a request filed by the Hadash political party and Adalah that sought to stop police from banning anti-war demonstrations. Since October 7, hundreds of people have been arrested for posting on social media in solidarity with Gaza victims or participating in protest marches.
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