The truce between Israel and Hamas is nearing its end, and negotiators from Qatar, Egypt, and the US are working to secure an extension to prevent a resumption of the devastating conflict that erupted nearly two months ago.
The recent release of 12 hostages by Hamas, including 10 Israelis and two Thai citizens, prompted US President Joe Biden to call for an end to the fighting and criticize Hamas for its resistance to peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians.
However, the fragility of the six-day cease-fire was highlighted by a flare-up in northern Gaza, where some Israeli soldiers sustained minor injuries in three separate explosions and an ensuing exchange of fire.
A Hamas official claimed that the clash occurred after Israeli troops violated the terms of the cease-fire, although no further details were provided.
Before the truce, Israel had launched a relentless bombing and ground invasion campaign that resulted in significant destruction in Gaza’s largest city.
Local authorities in the Hamas-run enclave reported the death toll of over 15,000 Palestinians.
The conflict began when Hamas fighters swarmed into southern Israel from Gaza on October 7, causing casualties and taking hostages. Both the US and the European Union have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization.
As part of the original agreement and a subsequent two-day extension, Hamas has released approximately 60 Israeli hostages, primarily civilian women and children. They have also freed around 20 citizens from Thailand, the Philippines, and Russia separately. However, the militant group, along with other armed factions in Gaza, still holds soldiers and several civilian men, women, and children, including an infant.
Israel, in exchange for the release of its citizens, has handed over approximately three Palestinian prisoners for each Israeli citizen freed. The Israeli government has received a list of hostages expected to be released by Hamas on Wednesday and is currently in the process of notifying their families.
High-ranking officials, including Bill Burns, director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, and the director of Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, recently attended a meeting in Doha to discuss the potential terms of an extended deal.
Although progress remains unclear, Egyptian and Qatari officials have been in contact to extend the truce for two more days, according to Al-Qahera News.
Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, and Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens are scheduled to arrive in Israel on Thursday. Carstens will support Blinken’s visit to the region, meet with Israeli government counterparts, and visit the families of Americans held hostage in Gaza.
The pause in fighting has allowed for the entry of more humanitarian aid into Gaza, where conditions are described as “catastrophic” by the United Nations. The US has airlifted over 54,000 pounds of medical supplies and food to Egypt, which will be delivered to Gaza in the first three planned shipments.
In a separate development, Saudi Arabia has reportedly offered to increase investment in Iran’s sanctions-stricken economy if Iran stops supporting proxies like Hamas Hezbollah in Lebanon and Houthi militants in Yemen. This offer aims to curb the widening of the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Israel’s President Isaac Herzog is planning to visit Dubai later this week for the COP28 climate summit and seeks diplomatic meetings to discuss the ongoing war. He may engage with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on the matter.
While the truce holds in Gaza, tensions are escalating in the Palestinian West Bank region. Israeli soldiers entered the Jenin refugee camp, closing all entrances and surrounding hospitals, declaring a closed military area. The operation resulted in the deaths of two high-ranking militants, the arrest of 17 individuals, and the confiscation of seven weapons.
Additionally, an IDF aircraft attacked militants overnight, and a tunnel was destroyed during the operation. Jenin has been a center of unrest with the presence of Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants.
As the negotiations for an extension continue, the international community remains hopeful for a lasting solution prioritizing peace, security, and the well-being of civilians caught in the crossfire. The release of all hostages, the delivery of humanitarian aid, and diplomatic efforts are crucial steps toward de-escalation and the potential for a more stable future in the region.