Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
By Patrick D. Lewis
After over six weeks of fighting between the State of Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, both sides announced they had agreed to a four-day “humanitarian pause” that began on November 23. This pause was extended by two more days on November 27 and extended again on November 30.
Under the initial conditions of the ceasefire, Hamas agreed to release at least 50 of the more than 200 hostages being held captive in Gaza, mainly releasing Israeli women and children, in exchange for 150 Palestinian women and children Israel was holding prisoner. Israel agreed to a no-fly zone over southern Gaza for the duration of the pause. Israel also agreed to allow convoys of trucks carrying humanitarian aid into Gaza. Qatar mediated the negotiations that led to the truce with assistance from US diplomatic officials.
Hamas released 13 Israeli hostages on November 24. Israel released several dozen Palestinian prisoners in exchange. After initial delays on Hamas’ part, 13 more hostages were released on November 25, 14 on November 26, 11 on November 27, 10 on November 28, and 10 on November 29. In addition to the 71 Israeli hostages, at least 27 foreign citizens (from Russia, Thailand, and the Philippines) were also released in separate deals.
American officials, including President Joe Biden, said they did not know if Americans would be among the remaining hostages to be freed, although one dual citizen Israeli-American, a 4-year old girl, was released on November 26.
Israeli officials indicated that they were open to extending the truce if Hamas continued to release at least 10 hostages per day, something that Hamas indicated it may be willing to do. Qatar officials announced the extension of the ceasefire on November 27. The Biden Administration has been very vocal in supporting and working towards a continued ceasefire.
The freed hostages were handed over to the Red Cross by Hamas and were then transported to hospitals by military escort. The Red Cross has also been largely responsible for coordinating the entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza under the terms of the ceasefire; over 2700 trucks have entered the war torn area since the fighting stopped. The United States military is also providing aid via airlifts into Egypt.
Although the only combatants named in the ceasefire agreement were Israel and Hamas, reports from the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War say that little fighting was reported during the ceasefire between Israel and the various militias and terror groups allied to and supported by Hamas. Organizations like Hezbollah have been trading artillery and rocket attacks in other parts of Israel since the war began on October 7. However, one armed clash did occur between Hamas and Israel on November 28 and multiple incidents were reported at the Israel-Lebanon border.
In the days prior to the truce, fierce fighting raged in Gaza with particular attention focused on the Al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest. Israeli special forces raided the hospital, which was sheltering over 7,000 injured and displaced people, after purportedly discovering extensive Hamas command infrastructure in and below the facility. Hamas denies using the hospital to house military personnel or supplies. The director of Al-Shifa Hospital, Dr. Muhammad Abu Salamiya, was arrested by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and remains in custody.
Israeli forces had been continuing successful but bloody drives into towns and cities in Gaza at the same time as the widely-reported Al-Shifa raid. Gaza City, the most densely-populated area of the Gaza Strip, remains largely under Hamas control. Before the ceasefire began, IDF troops had been slowly advancing on the metropolis from the south, west, and north, likely in an attempt to encircle it and begin a slowly-tightening siege operation.
The humanitarian toll in Gaza, aside from the hostage situation, is disturbing. In Israel, an estimated 1,200 people were killed and over 5,000 more were wounded in the Hamas attacks, according to the Associated Press. In Gaza, the United Nations says over 13,000, over 5,000 of them children, are dead and tens of thousands more injured as a result of the fighting. As a comparison, on November 21 the UN reported that 10,000 civilians had been killed in the over-20 months of war in Ukraine.
The disturbing number of civilian casualties continues to cause blowback for Israel, ranging from a warning from newly-appointed UK foreign secretary David Cameron to harsh condemnation from the United Nations, Amnesty International, and pro-Hamas nations like Iran. Most nations, though, are expressing increased hope for a more long-term solution given the ceasefire and hostage releases.