A four-day ceasefire in Gaza between Israel and Hamas is set to begin today at 7pm NZDT, Qatar said, a day later than originally announced, as negotiators worked out final details of the deal, which is to bring the release of dozens of hostages held by militants and Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.
The diplomatic breakthrough promised some relief for the 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza who have endured weeks of Israeli bombardment, as well as families in Israel fearful for the fate of their loved ones taken captive during Hamas’ October 7 attack that triggered the war.
The ceasefire was originally set to begin Thursday morning, but it appeared to hit a snag the night before when Israel’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, announced a one-day delay without providing a reason.
Palestinian protesters carry posters and chant anti-Israel slogans during a rally in solidarity with Gaza, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Photo / AP
On Thursday, Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesman Majed al-Ansari announced the cease-fire will start at 7am local time Friday (6pm Friday NZ time)
He said the two sides had exchanged lists of those to be released, and the first group of 13 women and children held by Hamas would be freed Friday afternoon. He did not say how many Palestinian prisoners would be freed, but officials have said three would be freed for every hostage.
Increased aid for Palestinians will start to enter Gaza “as soon as possible”, al-Ansari said. The hope is that the “momentum” from this deal will lead to an “end to this violence”, he told reporters.
Rising toll in Gaza
Israeli airstrikes continued Thursday. In the afternoon, a strike levelled a residential building in the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, which has seen particularly heavy bombardment in recent days. At least 12 people were killed, according to officials at nearby Al-Aqsa Hospital.
One resident, Hosni Moharib, said his wife and several children were killed and other relatives remained buried under the rubble.
Palestinians mourn their relatives killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, in the hospital in Khan Younis. Photo / AP
“It exploded on the house, striking the babies and young children, everyone in the house, they are all dead,” he said, bursting into tears.
The Israeli bombardment, now in its seventh week, has killed more than 13,300 Palestinians, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which resumed its detailed count of casualties in Gaza from the war. The ministry had stopped publishing casualty counts as of November 11, saying it had lost the ability to do so because of the health system’s collapse in the north,
The new numbers were not fully broken down, but women and minors have consistently made up around two-thirds of the dead in past tallies. The figures do not include updated numbers from hospitals in the north, where services and communication largely broke down earlier this month. The ministry says some 6,000 people have been reported missing, feared buried under rubble.
The ministry does not differentiate between civilians and militants in its death tolls. Israel says it has killed thousands of Hamas fighters, without presenting evidence for its count.
Netanyahu says truce won’t end war
Families and friends of about 240 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza call for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to bring them home. Photo / AP
The truce agreement raised hopes of eventually winding down the war, which has levelled vast swaths of Gaza, fueled a surge of violence in the occupied West Bank and stirred fears of a wider conflagration across the Middle East.
Air-raid sirens sounded across northern Israel on Thursday as Hezbollah said it fired 48 Katyusha rockets from southern Lebanon. The barrage came after an Israeli strike killed five Hezbollah fighters, including the son of the head of the group’s parliamentary bloc.
The Israeli military said it was striking the sources of the launches. Israel and Hezbollah, which fought a monthlong war in 2006, have repeatedly traded fire across the border since the war in Gaza broke out.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to continue the war after the truce expires to destroy Hamas’ military capabilities, end its 16-year rule in Gaza and return all the estimated 240 captives held in Gaza by Hamas and other groups.
“We will continue it until we achieve all our goals,” Netanyahu said, adding that he had delivered the same message in a phone call to US President Joe Biden. Washington has provided extensive military and diplomatic support to Israel since the start of the war.
In Gaza’s city of Khan Younis, Palestinians welcomed the respite of the upcoming cease-fire but said four days would do little to relieve the humanitarian disaster caused by the war.
“God willing, it becomes a total cease-fire,” said Jihan Qanan. “People have had houses brought down on their heads, they’ve been expelled ... There’s no homes, no money, no possessions. The whole world is wrecked.”
Israeli military vehicles are seen in the town of Tulkarem, West Bank. Photo / AP
Israeli military spokesman Col. Richard Hecht said combat operations would continue “until we are given the order to hold our fire”. Israeli troops hold much of northern Gaza and say they have dismantled tunnels and much of Hamas’ infrastructure there.
Israeli troops have surrounded the Jabaliya refugee camp and called on any residents inside to evacuate during a three-hour window Thursday, he said. The military has said it is pursuing Hamas fighters in Jabaliya, a dense urban district adjacent to Gaza City that has come under intense bombardment for weeks.
The military said Thursday it detained the director of Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, Mohammed Abu Selmia, for questioning over his involvement in what it called “extensive” Hamas activities in the hospital. A day earlier, Israel showed a tunnel and rooms that military officials said were a major Hamas hideout beneath Shifa. Hamas and hospital staff deny Israeli allegations that Shifa was used as a militant command centre.
Gaza’s Health Ministry condemned Abu Selmia’s arrest and called on international bodies to intervene.
Earlier Thursday, Israel ordered the full evacuation of the Indonesian Hospital in the north, Dr. Munir al-Boursh, a Health Ministry official inside the facility, told Al Jazeera. Fighting has raged outside the hospital for days, and hundreds of people have already been evacuated to the south.
Israel has threatened to extend its invasion to southern Gaza, where most of the territory’s population is now located. More than 1 million people, including hundreds of thousands who fled the north, have crammed into overflowing U.N.-run shelters with dwindling food, water and basic supplies.
For Hamas, the cease-fire would provide an opportunity to regroup after weeks of apparently heavy losses. Hamas leader Yehya Sinwar, who is believed to be alive and in hiding in Gaza, is likely to claim the release of Palestinian prisoners as a major achievement and declare victory if the war ends.
Hostages to be freed in stages
Under the truce deal, 50 hostages are supposed to be freed in stages, in exchange for the release of what Hamas said would be 150 Palestinian prisoners. Women and children would be released first, and Israel said the truce would be extended an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed.
The return of hostages could lift spirits in Israel, where their plight has gripped the country. Families of the hostages have staged mass demonstrations to pressure the government to bring them home. Netanyahu’s office said it notified the families of hostages listed for release Friday.
Hamas said 200 trucks a day will enter Gaza carrying aid. Qatar said the aid will include fuel, but has given no details on quantities.
Israel cut off all imports at the start of the war, except for a trickle of food, water and medical supplies allowed in from Egypt. The lack of fuel has caused a territory-wide blackout, leaving homes and hospitals reliant on faltering generators.
Israel’s Justice Ministry published a list of 300 prisoners eligible to be released, mainly teenagers detained over the past year for rock-throwing and other minor offenses.
The war erupted when several thousand Hamas militants stormed into southern Israel, killing at least 1200 people, mostly civilians, and taking scores of hostages, including babies, women and older adults, as well as soldiers, for whom Hamas is expected to demand a large number of high-profile prisoners.
-Wafaa Shurafa, Najib Jobain, and Jack Jeffery, AP
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