Benjamin Netanyahu has declared that the conflict with Hamas will persist despite a temporary ceasefire scheduled to commence this week and the anticipated release of certain hostages held by the militant Islamist organization in Gaza.
During a press conference in Tel Aviv, the Israeli prime minister stated, “The war continues. We will persist until we achieve complete victory—eliminating Hamas, securing the release of our captives, and ensuring that Israel faces no threats post-Hamas.”
The release of hostages, as part of an exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, has been postponed until Friday, according to Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi. In a late Wednesday statement, Hanegbi explained that talks on the deal were ongoing, and the release would adhere to the original agreement between the parties.
The exchange is set to occur within the context of the first ceasefire in seven weeks of conflict in Gaza. This ceasefire is expected to begin on Friday and last for a minimum of four days, as confirmed by officials from both Hamas and Israel.
The truce was announced early on Wednesday after days of speculation, during which more than 100 Palestinians were reported killed as Israeli forces continued their attacks on Gaza from various fronts.
Under the terms of the agreement, Hamas will release a minimum of 50 of the over 240 hostages, primarily Israelis, taken on October 7. In return, Israel will release at least 150 Palestinian prisoners and allow the entry of up to 300 trucks carrying humanitarian aid into Gaza. This comes after more than six weeks of bombardment, intense fighting, and a severe blockade affecting fuel, food, medicine, and other essentials.
As part of the ceasefire, Israeli air sorties over southern Gaza will cease, and air activity over northern Gaza will be limited to six hours a day. According to a statement from Hamas, Israel has agreed not to make any arrests in Gaza for the duration of the truce.
The coordination of the intricate exchange of prisoners and hostages, coupled with the enforcement of a temporary cessation of hostilities, may still lead to potential delays.
As confirmed by both sides, the hostages to be released are women and children, while the Palestinian prisoners include women and individuals aged 18 and younger. Reports suggest that if the initial exchanges proceed smoothly and Hamas can identify more female hostages or children, additional releases may follow on both sides.
This agreement brokered after extensive and intricate negotiations mediated by Qatar, the US, and Egypt six weeks after the conflict began on October 7. The hostilities initiated with Hamas launching attacks from Gaza into southern Israel, resulting in over 1,200 reported deaths, predominantly civilians, and the capture of more than 240 individuals.
The Israeli offensive, according to Palestinian officials, has led to the death of between 13,000 and 14,000 people, with thousands being children, and many more are believed to be under the rubble. Large areas in northern Gaza have been devastated, displacing up to a million people.
While the deal has raised hopes for a more lasting cessation of hostilities, Netanyahu has pledged to “complete the elimination of Hamas and ensure that there will be no new threat to the state of Israel from Gaza.” He emphasized that the state is at war and that pursuing goals will continue until they are achieved.
Following a lengthy overnight debate, the Israeli government’s approval of the deal underscores a commitment to military operations resuming at full force once the current phase concludes, as stated by Israel’s Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant.
The decision by Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Islamist militia, to observe the truce, despite not participating in negotiations may provide some encouragement to Israeli officials. However, violence along Israel’s northern frontier has escalated with tit-for-tat exchanges of fire.
The deal’s approval by the Israeli cabinet was one of the final hurdles in a challenging five-week negotiation process, with one US official describing it as “extremely excruciating.” Overcoming issues, including obtaining the consent of Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s leader in Gaza, marked a significant development, even though analysts noted the delay in his approval.
The potential release of 150 more Palestinian prisoners in a subsequent phase, in exchange for 50 more hostages, is outlined in an Israeli government document. The document suggests an additional day’s “pause” in fighting for every 10 hostages released.
The lack of clarity on the specific individuals to be freed has caused distress on both sides. Israel’s list of eligible Palestinian prisoners includes women and young people, with no release of those convicted of murder. However, concerns persist, and families await information on the releases.
The truce deal has garnered international support from Britain, China, France, Germany, Jordan, and Egypt. Notably, the deal involves hostages from various nationalities, and its implementation poses logistical challenges, particularly for Hamas, in ensuring the safe passage of all 50 hostages to the borders of Gaza.
Netanyahu is now under domestic pressure to secure the release of the remaining hostages, facing political risks, particularly from far-right parties within the ruling coalition opposing the proposed deal. The potential resumption of Israel’s offensive in Gaza is met with protests from hostages’ families, and any military action is likely to focus on advancing into southern Gaza, raising concerns about the safety of the civilian population.