Mediators scrambling to arrange Gaza ceasefire

Henry

Mediators are scrambling to finalize a new ceasefire in war-torn Gaza. Recent statements from US President Joe Biden and other world leaders want to make it appear as if a breakthrough is imminent.

However, the exact conditions of a possible agreement still remain unclear – less than two weeks before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the possible deadline for the agreement.

Sources describe a plan for a six-week ceasefire and the release of scores of hostages and hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including increased aid to occupied Gaza.

Biden told reporters on Monday that an agreement “in principle” would apply during Ramadan (which begins on March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar).

Qatar, where Hamas’s political bureau is housed, is “hopeful, but not necessarily optimistic” that an agreement will be concluded before Ramadan. “The situation is still fluid at ground level,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday.

The truce is expected to last for 42 days, said a source in Hamas who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the subject.

Hamas wants a permanent withdrawal of the Israeli army from the Gaza Strip, and the source says the ceasefire could possibly be “renewed”.

Biden said Israel would not engage in operations during Ramadan and the Hamas source said Israeli forces would “withdraw from cities and populated areas in Gaza”.

This would give displaced Gazans the chance to return to their homes, the Hamas source added, but said men between 18 and 50 would not be able to do so.

However, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has indicated that Israel will stick to its goal of finally eliminating Hamas in response to the group’s unprecedented attack on October 7. The attack led to the death of 1,160 people in Israel, mainly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Israel’s military assault claimed the lives of at least 29,878 people, mainly women and children, according to the Hamas-controlled territory’s health ministry.

Who will be released?

During the only previous ceasefire in the war, which lasted for one week in November, more than 100 hostages were released, including 80 Israeli citizens taken hostage during the October 7 attack. Some 240 Palestinian citizens who were detained in Israel were also released.

About 250 persons were taken hostage during the Hamas attack. A total of 130 of these hostages are still in Gaza, although around 31 are believed to be dead, Israel says.

Under the proposal for a new ceasefire, the Hamas source said, the group would release 42 Israeli citizens – women and children under 18 – as well as sick and elderly persons.

Palestinian prisoners will be released in a ratio of 10 to one, the source said.

What does this mean for humanitarian aid?

Increasing international pressure for a new ceasefire comes amid warnings about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and concerns about an expected Israeli invasion of southern Rafah.

Netanyahu warned that any agreement for a ceasefire would merely delay the land occupation of Rafah, not prevent it. About 1.5 million Palestinian citizens have come to seek refuge here.

According to the agreement, between 400 and 500 trucks with humanitarian aid will enter Gaza every day, the Hamas source said. This is an increase of just over 100 trucks per day in the past few weeks, according to Amnesty International.

During the period, there will also be efforts to get hospitals, bakeries and water stations up and running again, according to the Hamas source.

Israel’s Channel 12 reported that David Barnea, head of Mossad, told the cabinet that a failure to increase humanitarian aid would scuttle the deal.