Qatar and the United States are attempting to reach an interim agreement under which women and children held hostage by Hamas and other organizations in the Gaza Strip would be released. “We think we’re closer than we’ve probably been at any time since negotiations began weeks ago,” explained deputy director of the US National Security Council Jon Finer on CNN on Sunday, November 19. The agreement – which The Washington Post says is six pages long, but details are reportedly still changing – is uncommonly complex, due to the number of parties involved, the much-debated “choreography” of prisoner movements and the matter of mutual concessions.
The general principle of the agreement would be the immediate release of some 50 hostages out of a total of around 240, in exchange for a pause of the military operation for at least four to five days. Further concessions, which could include the release of a further 20 to 25 women and children held hostage in the Gaza Strip, would depend on the success of the first stage. According to The Wall Street Journal, these hostages will be released in exchange for the same number of Palestinian women and children who are among the 150 being held in Israeli prisons, as Hamas is demanding. According to the draft agreement, the temporary halt in the fighting will enable a significant increase in humanitarian aid from Egypt via the Rafah crossing.
“We’re talking about a pause in the fighting lasting several days,” confirmed Michael Herzog, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, on ABC television on Sunday. This humanitarian pause must above all not be called a “ceasefire,” according to the Americans and Israelis, as this would give Hamas the opportunity to regroup and reorganize.
“The central rule is this: When we know that the hostages can be released, not in a manipulative way or for Hamas public relations purposes, but rather through a mass release of our hostages, only then will we agree to a ceasefire,” said Tzachi Hanegbi, director of Israel’s National Security Council, on Friday. He specified that this pause would be “very short”. The Israeli army, which announced on Monday that it was extending its operations to new districts in the north of the Gaza Strip, plans to continue them in the south of the enclave.
Doha and Cairo mediation
The Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, had suspended negotiations for several days following the Israeli army’s raid on the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. They are reported to have resumed over the weekend. Sinwar is demanding, according to the Axios news website, that Israel suspends aerial surveillance for six hours a day so that Hamas fighters can locate, without being spied on, hostages with whom they have lost contact during the fighting. Hamas says it currently knows the whereabouts of around 50 of the 240 hostages in its hands, or those of Palestinian Islamic Jihad or other Palestinian factions.
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