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Wednesday, February 28, 2024  
17 Shaban 1445  

Israel–Hamas war: The hostage deal and ceasefire explained

An Egyptian source says the truce could start as early as Thursday
Israeli tanks take position near a border with Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, November 22, 2023. REUTERS
Israeli tanks take position near a border with Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, November 22, 2023. REUTERS

Israel and Hamas have agreed to a pause in fighting in Gaza to allow for the release of 50 hostages held by Hamas in exchange for 150 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons and also to allow for more aid to enter the enclave.

WHAT ARE THE DETAILS OF THE DEAL?

Under the deal, the two sides agreed to a four-day truce so that 50 women and children under the age of 19 taken hostage could be freed in return for 150 Palestinian women and teenagers in Israeli detention.

The 50 hostages, among about 240 taken by Hamas in their October 7 raid on Israel, are expected to be released in batches, probably about a dozen a day, during the four-day ceasefire.

Sides to the deal have called the break in hostilities “a humanitarian pause”. The pause will be extended by a day for each additional batch of 10 hostages released, Israel said in a statement.

Hamas said Israel had agreed to halt air traffic over the north of Gaza from 10am (0800 GMT) until 4pm (1400 GMT) each day of the truce and to halt all air traffic over the south for the entire period.

The group said Israel agreed not to attack or arrest anyone in Gaza, and people can move freely along Salah al-Din Street, the main road along which many Palestinians have fled northern Gaza where Israel launched its ground invasion.

Qatar’s chief negotiator in ceasefire talks, Minister of State at the Foreign Ministry Mohammed Al-Khulaifi, said that under the deal there would be “no attack whatsoever. No military movements, no expansion, nothing.”

He said Qatar hoped it would “be a seed to a bigger agreement and a permanent cease of fire.”

WHEN DOES THE DEAL START?

Speaking early on Wednesday, the Qatari negotiator said the timing for the start of the truce would be announced within 24 hours.

Israel delayed the start to give time for its Supreme Court to hear a challenge to the deal raised by those who say a truce was too much of a concession to Hamas. A court ruling is not expected to derail the deal.

An Egyptian source said the truce could start as early as 10 a.m. (0800 GMT) on Thursday.

HOW WILL IT BE IMPLEMENTED?

The International Committee of the Red Cross will work in Gaza to facilitate the release of the hostages, Qatar said.

The hostages are expected to be transported through Egypt, the only country apart from Israel to share a border with Gaza.

During the truce, trucks loaded with aid and fuel are expected to cross into Gaza, where 2.3 million people have been running out of food and many hospitals have shut down in part because they no longer have fuel for their generators.

WHO ARE THE HOSTAGES BEING RELEASED?

Hamas has not released a full list of names of those being held in Gaza. A US official said the group had said it needed a pause “to locate and determine where people are”. Not all the hostages taken on October 7 were being held by Hamas.

Among the 50 women and children under the age of 19 being released by Hamas are three US citizens, including a girl who turns 4 on Friday, the US official said.

In addition to Israeli civilians and soldiers taken on October 7, more than half the roughly 240 hostages are foreign and dual nationals from about 40 countries including Argentina, Britain, Chile, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Thailand and the US, Israel’s government has said.

WHO ARE THE PALESTINIANS BEING FREED AND WHY WERE THEY HELD?

Israel has provided a list of about 300 Palestinian prisoners who might be released - double the number of women and minors it has agreed to be freed at first - and suggested it expects more than 50 hostages to be released under the deal.

The Palestinian Prisoners Society said that as of Wednesday, 7,200 prisoners were being held by Israel, among them 88 women and 250 children 17 and under.

Most on the list of 300 are from the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Jerusalem and were held for incidents such as attempted stabbings, hurling stones at Israeli soldiers, making explosives, damaging property and having contacts with hostile organisations.

None are accused of murder. Many were held under administrative detention, meaning they were held without trial.

The released prisoners could be taken by buses to the presidential headquarters of the Palestinian Authority first as in past releases, even though Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had no role in these truce negotiations, a Palestinian official said.

WHO NEGOTIATED THE DEAL?

Qatar played a large mediation role. Hamas has a political office in Doha and the Qatari government has kept channels of communication open with Israel, even though unlike some other Gulf Arab states it has not normalised ties with Israel.

The United States also played a crucial role, with US President Joe Biden holding calls with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the weeks leading up to the deal.

Egypt, the first Arab state to sign a peace deal with Israel and which has long played a mediation role over the decades of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was also involved.

WHY HAS IT TAKEN SO LONG TO NEGOTIATE?

The deal was announced 46 days after the start of the war, one of the most fierce conflicts to erupt between the two sides.

Hamas fighters killed 1,200 people when they launched their raid on Israel, the biggest single-day toll on Israeli soil since its creation in 1948, and more than 13,000 people have been killed in the Israeli air strikes and land incursion since then, the most by far of any recent war.

Amid such ferocious fighting, the large number of hostages and Israel’s stated determination to wipe out Hamas in Gaza, mediating even a temporary deal, like this one, proved far more challenging than in previous conflicts.

The initial negotiations for a deal between Israel and Hamas, both sworn enemies, began within days of the October 7 attack but progress was slow.

This was partly because communications between the warring sides had to go via Doha or Cairo and back for every detail hammered out, such as securing a full list from Hamas for those to be released, US officials said.

Even with a deal in place, the ceasefire is temporary. Hamas has said throughout the truce its “fingers remain on the trigger”. Israel has said the conflict will continue until all the hostages are freed and Hamas is eliminated.

In 2014, when Israel last launched a major land invasion in Gaza, it took 49 days for both sides to implement a ceasefire deal, but that brought major fighting to an end for several years.

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