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Israel-Hamas truce : Terms of temporary ceasefire or 'pause'

Israel-Hamas pause: What is the deal and is it a ceasefire?
10 min read
22 November, 2023
The deal will see the exchange of 50 of the approximately 250 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza and around 150 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.
The temporary ceasefire will bring some relief to the 2.2 million in Gaza who have been facing day and night bombardment for six weeks [GETTY]

For the first time since the outbreak of Israel's war on Gaza on October 7, there will be a four-day pause in fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas and Israel's indiscriminate bombing of the territory as agreed to in a temporary ceasefire deal brokered by Qatar, the United States and Egypt.

The pause to the onslaught will give only slight relief to the battered Palestinian enclave, many areas of which have been completely turned to rubble, burying what is believed to be thousands of more people underneath. It will remain to be seen whether the pause could become a lasting ceasefire and lead to the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.

The deal will see the exchange of 50 of the approximately 250 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza and around 150 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Women and children held by Hamas over the past six weeks will be swapped during a careful four-day process in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners, mainly teenagers and women.

According to the White House, Israelis with dual nationality are believed to be included in the agreement, as well as a handful of foreign nationals, mainly US citizens.

It will also bring some relief to Palestinians in Gaza by allowing the entry of desperately needed aid into the enclave, which has been besieged by Israel for the past six weeks – cutting off supplies of electricity, food, water, medicines and fuel to the 2.3 million residents.

Hospitals have been forced to shut down, and ambulances grounded to a halt - amid deliberate targeting by Israel - due to a lack of fuel supplies, which has devastated the war-torn population.

While the deal has been lauded by world leaders, Netanyahu has explicitly stated that it does not bring the war any closer to an end, with his campaign to ‘destroy’ Hamas to pick up as soon as the temporary ceasefire is over. 

Israel’s adamance to continue with the war is a point of concern for Gazans and much of global public opinion, despite outcry over the Israeli military’s brtuality. If the truce is not upgraded, Palestinians there will be faced with a fresh wave of violence that has so far killed over 14,000 in the Palestinian territory.

When will  hostages be handed to Israel?

The Qatari-mediated truce, which was set to go into effect on Thursday but was postponed to Friday morning. It would see Hamas hand over 50 Israeli hostages – specifically women and children under the age of 19 - out of more than 200 they captured during their surprise and large-scale ground, air and sea attack on October 7.

Hamas would give a list of the hostages to Israel before their release, day by day.

In return, Israel will release at least 150 Palestinian detainees held in its prisons, including women and children. Only minors under the age of 19 will be freed.

For every Israeli released, three Palestinians will be freed.

Some of these hostages have already been released for humanitarian reasons, and some others, according to Hamas, have been killed in Israeli airstrikes.

The exchange will take place in stages. The Times of Israel reported that the hostage swaps would be in groups of ten, comprising some 30 children, eight mothers, and 12 elderly women.

Hamas will hand the detainees to Red Cross humanitarian officials, who will take them into Israel.

Only once the 50 hostages have been safely returned to Israel will there be the release of the 150 Palestinian prisoners.

Israel’s war cabinet has laid out strict conditions.

If Hamas returns an extra 10 hostages a day, the truce in tandem would be extended, but this would only be to a maximum of ten days after which it is unclear whether Israel would resume its military operation.

Hamas must also work to locate the Israeli citizens believed to be held hostage by other Palestinian groups, including Islamic Jihad, which Hamas has struggled to communicate with since the widespread power blackouts.

Who are the Palestinian prisoners eligible for release?

Israel’s Justice Ministry on Wednesday published a list of the names of 300 Palestinian prisoners who could be freed.

Their freedom is tied to how the course of events will play out over the coming days as there remains a possibility of a collapse if either side breaches conditions.

According to Al-Jazeera, the list of prisoners includes at least 33 women and 123 minors, with the youngest aged 14 and the eldest a 59-year-old woman.

Most prisoners have been detained in the past year and are still awaiting trial, with Israel accusing them of a range of crimes from incitement to stone-throwing and attempted murder.

Many of the Palestinians on the list are residents of the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.

One criteria of the deal bargained by Israel has authorised a 24-hour window for the Israeli public to appeal to the High Court in Tel Aviv against the release of a prisoner, and Israeli groups are expected to lodge appeals.

It also allows Netanyahu’s war cabinet to pick and choose which prisoners on the published list can be released.

According to the Israeli human rights group HaMoked, there are 6,704 Palestinians in detention with 2,070 being held without trial or charges based on secret information by Israeli authorities.

Why is the truce so short?

From 10:00am to 4:00pm each day there will no exchange of fire between Israel Defence Forces and Hamas militants, which will provide refuge to Gaza’s population who has been facing intense aerial and ground bombardment for the past six weeks.

The New Arab’s Arabic language sister publication Alaraby-Al-Jadeed reported that the ceasefire will include a halt to all Israeli army actions inside Gaza. This includes air traffic, like Israeli drones, which will continue for the designated six hours a day in the north of the enclave but not over the south.

The Israeli military will not be withdrawing its soldiers, tanks, weapons or vehicles from Gaza.

What aid will be allowed into Gaza?

According to a statement released by Hamas following the deal, hundreds of trucks of humanitarian aid will enter to both the north and south of Gaza ‘without exception’.

Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been without access to a regular supply of food, water, and medicines since the war broke out.

Hundreds of thousands have been displaced and are sheltering in hospitals, schools and on the streets and have reported difficulty finding food or running water. 

Humanitarian organisations and doctors are warning of the spread of disease.

Aid trucks have only been allowed to enter at strict intervals and Israel has frequently blocked the delivery of aid, leaving trucks piling up at the southern Rafah border crossing.

The UN’s World Food Programme warned last week that the population was facing the “immediate possibility of starvation.”

The daily humanitarian pauses will allow the movement of civilians on foot from the heavily bombed north to the south of Gaza.

How did the deal materialise?

All sides involved played a vital role in the top-secret negotiations, but Qatar can claim most of the credit.

Shortly after war erupted on October 7, Qatar reportedly contacted Washington and requested to form a small, multilateral group to coordinate a deal, at a time any agreement seem farfetched while Israel pounded Gaza.

US President Joe Biden had met with families of some of the hostages, and pressure against Netanyahu was picking up on the streets of Israel with protests and marches demanding the government take swift action to release the hostages.

Efforts were quietly intensifying between the US, Qatar, Egypt, Israel and Hamas to finalise the deal, amid reports which spoke about a deal possibly being reached and then collapsing.

CIA chief William Burns, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Biden’s Middle East aid Brett McGurk and Biden’s assistant Josh Geltzer were assigned from Washington.

Mossad chief David Barnea led the talks on behalf of Israel, along with Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Council chairman Tzachi Hanegbi.

Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani led Doha’s efforts, while intel chief Abbas Kamel partook on behalf of Egypt.

After Qatar contacted the White House to form the multilateral cell, Sullivan reportedly gave directions to McGurk and Geltzer to form the team. They asked for this to happen in discretion, as Qatar and Israel demanded complete secrecy, with only a limited number of people having knowledge on the matter.

Day by day, the cell kept in contact over the most recent developments.

Biden studied the specifics, which covered all possible scenarios and deals between Hamas, a designated terrorist organisation in Washington, and Israel, the US' closest ally.

Hamas was reportedly asked for lists of the hostages in its captivity, information on them, and guarantees for their release should an agreement come into realisation.

Officials involved in the matter pointed out that the lengthy process was exhausting, communication was difficult, and messages were back and forth, an official told Reuters.

When the agreement began to take shape, Biden was in touch with Al-Thani, a previously undisclosed phone call between the two, Reuters said. Burns flew to Doha to meet with the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on November 9 when Hamas gave its approval to release 50 hostages.

But a sticking point which remained was Hamas' refusal to release details on the Israeli captives.

Days later, Biden called the Qatari Emir to ask about the identities of the 50 hostages, including their age, gender and nationalities – some of the hostages are dual-nationals.

Without this information, there was no basis for moving forward, an official with knowledge on the matter said.

After initially refusing to provide this information, Hamas then sent the details to mediators.

Biden convinced Netanyahu to agree to the deal in a phone call with him on November 14, to which the Israeli premier did.

Final pushes were made to make sure the deal would go through, and the parties would respect the terms of the agreement.

McGurk travelled to Doha on November 18 and to Cairo on the following day. Contacts between the US, Qatari and Israeli sides were held to address any remaining gaps of the deal. Hamas gave its final approval.

What has been said about the deal so far?

Israel's Prime Minister said that his government had faced a “difficult decision” over the agreement, but that it was “the right decision”.

35 of Netanyahu’s 38-member war cabinet backed the deal. Members of right-wing extremist party Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), led by Public Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, voted against it.

Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said he hoped that the ceasefire will lead to an end to the war and for talks on a comprehensive peace process.

US President Biden thanked Egypt and Qatar and said that the US has been working on hostage negotiations since the beginning of the war and that the deal would see the return of Americans held by Hamas and other groups.

Russia, who has been critical of Israel’s assault on Gaza described the deal as good news. “It is only on the basis of these kinds of pauses that some outlines of future attempts at a sustainable settlement can be built,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, described the truce as a “step in the right direction”.

However, the director of Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine was critical of the deal, saying human beings are not “bargaining chips”.

Omar Shakir said that “blocking the delivery of life-saving aid and fuel until the release of hostages is a war crime that has put the lives of 2.2 million people at risk.”

Secretary-General of the League of Arab States Ahmed Aboul Gheit welcomed the success of the Egyptian-Qatari mediation in reaching the agreement.

He stressed that a comprehensive political solution to the Palestinian issue based on the two-state vision remains the only way out of the recurring cycles of violence in the Middle East.

He expressed his hope that the truce declared in Gaza would lead to a comprehensive ceasefire in the enclave and end the Israeli aggression.

Recently-appointed British Foreign Secretary David Cameron called the deal a "a crucial step towards providing relief to the families of the hostages and addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza."

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the "breakthrough" agreement "must be used to bring vital aid to people in Gaza."

China hoped "that it will help ease the plight of the humanitarian crisis, de-escalate the conflict and ease tensions," said foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning.