A Little Respite

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Israel and Hamas agreed Wednesday to free 50 Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip in exchange for a four-day pause in fighting, a deal that once implemented will be the biggest diplomatic breakthrough since the war began on Oct. 7, Axios reported.

Both sides confirmed the agreement in separate announcements, which comes after weeks of difficult negotiations brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the United States. The Israeli government approved the deal following hours-long discussions that went into the early hours of the day.

Qatar’s foreign ministry said early on the day that the temporary halt will be announced “within the next 24 hours and last for four days, subject to extension.” It added that humanitarian convoys and relief aid, including fuel, will be allowed to enter Gaza during the pause.

Officials familiar with the deal said it will be carried out in two phases: The first will see Hamas release 30 children, eight mothers and 12 other women over a period of four days. The hostages could be freed as early as Thursday, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In exchange, Israel will order the release of 150 Palestinian women and minors held in Israeli prisons during the pause.

In the second phase, Hamas could release up to 30 captives over a three-day period, with Israel saying it would prolong the pause for every additional 10 hostages released.

Ahead of the announcement, the Israeli government noted that it will persist in its conflict with Hamas despite the pauses, aiming to secure the release of all hostages, fully eliminate Hamas, and prevent any renewed threat from Gaza to Israel.

Even so, analysts and officials hope that the freeing of these hostages could lead to the release of others, including those held by other groups, such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The exchange addresses mounting pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to secure the release of around 240 individuals held in Gaza. In return, Hamas hopes to achieve its longstanding goal of freeing Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, seen by many Palestinians as unjustly detained.

Once a ceasefire is in place, security analysts suggested that Israel may face increased pressure to engage in talks, potentially leading to a permanent pause. This could also intensify calls for negotiations to release the remaining hostages and may impact the government’s plans to entirely eliminate Hamas.

Meanwhile, US officials noted that a temporary halt might reduce tensions near Lebanon, where the Israeli Defense Forces and Hezbollah have been engaged in conflict. The US is particularly worried about the possibility that the conflict in Gaza could spread to other parts of the Middle East.

The agreement comes as a growing number of world leaders worry about civilian casualties and a humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian enclave since fighting began last month. More than 11,000 people have been killed in Israeli airstrikes as of Nov. 10, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which says that continued fighting has made it unable to determine the exact number of casualties.

The Israeli military countered it has taken precautions to minimize civilian harm and accused Hamas of using civilians as shields, a claim denied by Hamas.

Israel launched its military campaign on Gaza following a surprise attack by Hamas and its affiliated groups on Oct. 7 that left around 1,200 people dead and saw the capture of around 240 hostages, including a number of US citizens.

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