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Israel, Hamas agree to 4-day truce, 50 hostages to be released

For every 10 additional hostages released, there would be an extra day of ceasefire: Deal will see 150 Palestinians freed from Israeli jails: US hopes for full pause in war: Gaza death toll rises to 14,100

By AFP

November 22, 2023 08:58 AM


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Israel and Hamas agreed to a four-day truce that would see the Palestinian group release dozens of hostages taken on October 7, both sides announced Wednesday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet approved the accord after a near-all-night meeting, in which he told reticent ministers this was a "difficult decision but it's a right decision."

A government spokesman told AFP that under the agreement at least 50 Israeli and foreign hostages would be released -- women and children -- in return for a four-day "lull" in military operations.

For every 10 additional hostages released, there would be an extra day of truce.

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Hamas released a statement welcoming the "humanitarian truce", which it said would also see 150 Palestinians released from Israeli jails.

The truce offers Gaza residents the prospect of a desperately desired, if brief, pause after nearly seven weeks of total war.

Sources from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian group, had earlier told AFP the truce would include a complete ceasefire on the ground and a pause in Israeli air operations over southern Gaza.

The Israeli cabinet's approval was one of the last stumbling blocks to the agreement coming into effect.

Qatar had helped to broker the talks.

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Qatar confirms deal

Qatar confirmed on Wednesday that Israel and Hamas had reached an agreement on a four-day humanitarian pause, to begin in the next 24 hours, in exchange for the release of 50 hostages in Gaza.

"The starting time of the pause will be announced within the next 24 hours and last for four days, subject to extension," Qatar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

"The agreement includes the release of 50 civilian women and children hostages currently held in the Gaza Strip in exchange for the release of a number of Palestinian women and children detained in Israeli prisons, the number of those released will be increased in later stages of implementing the agreement," it added.

Qatar has been engaged in weeks of intense, behind-the-scenes negotiations aimed at freeing some of the 240 hostages held in Gaza in return for temporary ceasefire and access for humanitarian aid.

Qatar said the deal had been undertaken with Egypt and the United States as well as Hamas and Israel and would include "the entry of a larger number of humanitarian convoys and relief aid, including fuel designated for humanitarian needs".

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US hopes for 'full pause'

President Joe Biden's administration hopes that a truce in Gaza will lead to a "full pause" in fighting along the Israel-Lebanon border, a senior US official said late Tuesday.

"We also hope that this (agreed four-day truce between Israel and Hamas) will lead to a full pause in some of the hostilities in the north, on the Lebanese border," the US official said on condition of anonymity.

- Misgivings -

Ahead of the vote, Netanyahu had faced a revolt from within his right-wing coalition, some of whom believe the agreement would give too much to Palestinian militants responsible for the worst attack in Israel's history.

Hardline Minister for National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir indicated he would vote against the agreement, saying it should include the release of Israeli soldiers.

Hamas raids on October 7 killed an estimated 1,200 people and seized 240 hostages, civilians and military, who are believed to be held in Gaza.

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The bloody attacks sparked Operation "Swords of Iron" -- Israel's punishing air and ground on Hamas-run Gaza, which Palestinian authorities say has killed 14,100 people, mostly women and children.

But with dozens of families in Israel and beyond desperate to have their loved ones returned home, and the Israeli public gripped by the hostages' fate, the government set aside any misgivings.

Israel's powerful Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said before the crunch meeting that he had won assurances that the deal would not spell the end of the war to destroy Hamas.

"Immediately after we have exhausted this phase" he said, security operations would "continue in full force."

In a statement, Netanyahu's office underscored that the truce did not spell the end of the war.

"The Israeli government, the Israeli army and the security forces will continue the war to bring back all those kidnapped, eliminate Hamas and ensure that there is no longer any threat to the State of Israel from Gaza," the statement said.

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- 'Unbearable situation' -

Earlier, Rafah resident Hamza Abdel Razeq welcomed any ceasefire would bring some respite for Gazans who have endured Israel's bombing and expanding ground offensive.

"The people are really suffering," he told AFP. "If they reach a five-day truce deal now, I believe it will pave the way for longer truces or even a total ceasefire."

Another resident, Mahmud Abu Najm, added: "We... pray to God for its success because the people are enduring an unbearable situation."

Large parts of Gaza have been flattened by thousands of air strikes, and the territory is under siege, with minimal food, water and fuel allowed in.

According to the Hamas and Islamic Jihad sources, the proposed deal would also allow for up to 300 trucks of food and medical aid to enter Gaza.

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Israel has come under intense international pressure to implement a humanitarian ceasefire.

But in recent days it has pressed its offensive into northern Gaza.

The Israeli military said air strikes had hit "around 250" Hamas targets in the past day, destroying three underground shafts in the Jabalia area, which it said it had fully surrounded.

At Jabalia's Indonesian Hospital, the Hamas-run health ministry said strikes had killed dozens, but there was no independent confirmation of the toll.

The Israeli army said later its troops had "directly targeted" the source of fire from within the Indonesian Hospital.

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Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said three doctors, including two it employed, were killed in an Israeli strike on the Al-Awda hospital in Jabalia refugee camp.

Israel says Hamas uses medical facilities to hide fighters and as bases for operations, making them legitimate military objectives while insisting it does everything possible to limit harm to civilians.

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- the so-called BRICS group -- on Tuesday called for an immediate and sustained humanitarian truce in Gaza, during a virtual summit where the chair.

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The chair of the meeting, South Africa, accused Israel of war crimes and "genocide".

Chinese President Xi Jinping demanded during the summit the release of civilian detainees and a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, state media said.

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AFP


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