In a significant breakthrough in the ongoing conflict, Hamas and Israel have agreed to a four-day ceasefire in Gaza. The agreement, mediated by Qatar, involves the release of 50 women and children held hostage by Hamas in exchange for Israel freeing 150 Palestinian women and children from jail. The deal will also allow hundreds of humanitarian, medical, and fuel aid trucks to enter all parts of the Gaza Strip.
The hostages were taken by Hamas fighters during an incursion into Israel on October 7, which resulted in the death of 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies. The Prime Minister’s Office stated that the hostages will be released over four days, during which there will be a pause in fighting. For every additional 10 hostages released, the pause would be extended by another day.
The US, which has been involved in the negotiations, confirmed that the deal would include the exchange of 150 Palestinian prisoners. Israel’s government has expressed its commitment to returning all the hostages home and approved the proposed deal as a first step towards achieving this goal.
The agreement marks the first truce in a war that has seen Israeli bombardments flatten large areas of Gaza, killing 13,300 civilians and leaving about two-thirds of its 2.3 million people homeless, according to authorities in Gaza.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu acknowledged the role of US President Joe Biden in improving the tentative agreement to include more hostages and fewer concessions. However, he reiterated that Israel’s broader mission to destroy Hamas and ensure that no entity in Gaza can threaten Israel remains unchanged.
The ceasefire will also allow for humanitarian aid to Gaza. The first release of hostages is expected on Thursday, but the implementation of the deal must wait for 24 hours to give Israeli citizens the chance to ask the Supreme Court to block the release of Palestinian prisoners.
Hamas has so far released only four captives, citing “humanitarian reasons.” Meanwhile, the armed wing of the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad announced that one of the Israeli hostages it has held since the October 7 attacks on Israel had died.
As the hostage release deal takes center stage, fighting on the ground continues. The Israeli military has ordered the evacuation of the Indonesian Hospital in Gaza City, claiming that militants were operating from the facility. Hospitals in Gaza have been rendered virtually inoperable by the conflict and shortages of critical supplies.
On Tuesday, Israel also said its forces had encircled the Jabalia refugee camp, a major urban flashpoint and Hamas militant stronghold. The Palestinian news agency WAFA reported that 33 people were killed and dozens wounded in an Israeli air strike on part of Jabalia. In southern Gaza, Hamas-affiliated media reported that 10 people were killed and 22 injured by an Israeli air strike on an apartment in the city of Khan Younis.