Israel and Hamas reach last-minute agreement to extend Gaza truce

The parties have announced a temporary ceasefire agreement that will last until Friday morning and allow for a new exchange of hostages and prisoners

A Palestinian prisoner is greeted as he leaves an Israeli jail on Tuesday night.
A Palestinian prisoner is greeted as he leaves an Israeli jail on Tuesday night.Luis de Vega

The truce in Gaza will last one more day, until Friday morning. After hours of negotiations and when the threat of resumed bombings was looming, Israel and Hamas announced early on Thursday morning local time that the temporary ceasefire was being extended for a seventh day. This is the second extension to the cessation of hostilities, initially programmed for four days (Friday to Monday), to which two more days were added (Tuesday and Wednesday). On Wednesday night, negotiating efforts were redoubled with Qatar as the key mediator in the talks to iron out the details of the truce in a war that has been raging since October 7.

The announcement coincides with an upsurge in violence by the Israeli army in the West Bank, where it is carrying out an incursion into the Tulkarem refugee camp. In Jerusalem, a gun attack next to a bus stop has left at least four people dead, two women and two attackers, according to emergency services.

The Israeli army said in a statement Thursday morning: “In light of the mediators’ efforts to continue the process of releasing the hostages and subject to the terms of the framework, the operational pause will continue.” Obstacles, however, had emerged throughout the night. Hamas had announced that Israel refused to accept seven other hostages, women and children, along with three corpses of its citizens — also women and children from the same family — according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

The renewed truce will allow a new exchange of hostages for prisoners and will give a few more hours of respite to the inhabitants of Gaza. The terms of the agreement are similar to those that have been in force these six days and its main points continue to be, in addition to the cessation of bombings, the release of hostages held by Hamas and other groups in Gaza in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners and allowing humanitarian aid into the Strip. With the return of the sixth group of 16 captives on Wednesday to Israel — 10 Israelis, four Thais and two Russians — there are 145 hostages left in the Palestinian territory, of which 11 are foreigners and the rest Israeli citizens.

The exchange of hostages for prisoners initially included only women and children on both sides and a good number of them, 75, have already been released, as have foreign men whose release took place outside of the exchange between Hamas and Israel. The Israeli government’s condition for the cessation of fighting is receiving 10 new “living” hostages each day. An unnamed Israeli official involved in the negotiation process told Reuters Wednesday that Israel believed there were enough women and children among the Israeli captives “for at least two more days, potentially three days” of truce, clearing one of the main unknowns that weighed on a new extension.

Meanwhile, the mediating countries had been multiplying their contacts with both sides ahead of the last-minute deal. The head of the United States intelligence services, William Burns — director of the CIA — met on Wednesday in Doha with David Barnea, head of the Israeli Mossad, to discuss Israel’s conditions for a new extension and to see if there was a possibility of making it two days. At a press conference held Wednesday in Brussels, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared that his country would focus on “doing everything possible to prolong the pause.” Blinken traveled to Israel at dawn, for the fourth time since the war began.

Among these conditions, the possibility of requiring Hamas to begin handing over Israeli male hostages and soldiers of both sexes was discussed. The Wall Street Journal quoted a senior Israeli official as saying that his country was open to a new round of negotiations over the men and soldiers detained by Hamas once all the children and women are released.

The bellicosity of the far right

While negotiating the extension of the truce, the Israeli government has continued to insist on its intention to resume its offensive in Gaza, where the Israeli army has already killed almost 15,000 people, according to the health authorities in the Strip.

Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy said Wednesday that his country would continue to “increase military pressure for Hamas to release more hostages in Gaza.” He thus reaffirmed the official Israeli argument that ignores the danger that the bombings in the Strip also represent for the hostages. The Israeli narrative claims that continuing the war will lead Hamas to release more kidnapped people. This official argument also describes the truce as “an operational pause” that will allow better preparation for the next phase of a conflict that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government cannot renounce.

The prime minister faces pressure to honor his promise to put an end to Hamas; he is also dealing with the bellicosity of the most far-right wing of his government coalition and pressure from the hostages’ relatives, who demand that all of them be returned. The United States, Israel’s main ally, has expressed its opposition to Israel extending its ground offensive into the south of the Strip, where most of the 2.3 million residents of Gaza are now taking refuge, and has reiterated that Israel must allow the entry of more humanitarian aid, while continuing to offer strong support to Netanyahu’s administration.

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