RAFA, Gaza Strip (AP) — International mediators worked Wednesday to extend a cease-fire in Gaza, hoping that the territory's Hamas rulers will continue to free hostages in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners and Israeli air and air support. Ground attack will provide further relief. Otherwise it will expire within a day.
Israel has welcomed the release of dozens of hostages in recent days and has said it will maintain the ceasefire if Hamas continues to release detainees. But its second key goal – the destruction of the armed group that has ruled Gaza for 16 years – may be out of reach.
Weeks of heavy aerial bombardment and ground offensive have destroyed large parts of northern Gaza and killed thousands of Palestinians. But it appears to have had little impact on Hamas's rule, as evidenced by its ability to conduct complex negotiations, enforce ceasefires between other armed groups, and plan the smooth release of hostages.
Hamas leader Yehya Sinwar in GazaAnd other commanders have likely relocated to the south, along with hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians packed into shelters.
An Israeli ground offensive in the south could eventually unsettle Hamas leaders and dismantle the rest of its terrorist infrastructure, including kilometers (miles) of tunnels, but at the cost of Palestinian lives and destruction, the United States, Israel's main ally, It seems not ready to bear.
The Biden administration has told Israel that if it again adopts an aggressive stance It should work with much greater accuracy, especially in the south. This approach is unlikely to bring Hamas to its knees any time soon, and international pressure for a permanent ceasefire is already growing.
"How far both sides would be willing to go to stop the trade of hostages and prisoners remains to be tested, but the pressure and incentive for both to stick with it outweighs the incentive to go back to war at this time." Are strong." Former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indik wrote on X.
Diplomacy gained momentum
CIA Director William Burns and David Barnia, the head of Israel's Mossad spy agency, were in Qatar on Tuesday to discuss extending the ceasefire and releasing more hostages. Qatar has played Important role in mediation with Hamashosted the talks, which also included Egyptian mediators.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was Ready to visit this area this weekAnd it was also expected that he would insist on a long-term ceasefire.
A joint statement by foreign ministers from the G7 group of wealthy democracies, which also includes Israel's close allies, called for "further extending the pause" and "protecting civilians and complying with international law."
War started with Hamas October 7 attack on southern IsraelIn which more than 1,200 people were killed, mostly civilians. The militants pulled about 240 people back into Gaza, including children, children, women, soldiers, the elderly and Thai farm workers.
Israel responded with a devastating air campaign in Gaza and a ground offensive in the north. According to the UN, more than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed, about two-thirds of whom are women and minors. Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled GazaWhich does not differentiate between civilians and combatants.
Israel says 77 of its soldiers have been killed in ground attacks, and without providing evidence it claims to have killed thousands of militants.
The plight of the prisoners, and the shock created by the October 7 attack Strong Israeli support for the war, But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also under intense pressure to return the hostages home, and restarting the offensive could be difficult if more releases are likely.
Hamas is still believed to be holding about 150 hostages – enough to extend the ceasefire for another two weeks under the current arrangement of releasing 10 each day. But it is expected to lead to a hard bargain for the release of Israeli soldiers, possibly demanding the release of Palestinian prisoners convicted of deadly attacks.
Twelve more hostages were freed
In the latest swap, nine women and a teenager, as well as two Thai nationals, were freed on Tuesday and returned to Israel. The 17-year-old girl can be seen with her small, white-haired dog named Bella waiting for a Red Cross jeep carrying Hamas militants. Shortly thereafter, Israel released 30 Palestinian prisoners.
The ceasefire is set to expire after another exchange of fire on Wednesday night, after being extended by two days.
A total of 60 Israelis have been released under the ceasefire, most of whom appear physically healthy but shaken up, The other 21 hostages – 19 Thais, one Filipino and one Russian-Israeli – have been released in separate negotiations since the ceasefire began. Before the ceasefire, Hamas released four hostages and Israeli forces rescued one. Two other hostages were found dead in Gaza.
The latest swap brings to 180 the number of Palestinian women and teenagers freed from Israeli prisons. Most of the teenagers have been accused of throwing stones and firebombs during clashes with Israeli forces. Israeli military courts had convicted several women of attempting to carry out the deadly attacks. Palestinians have celebrated the release of those they see as opposed to Israel's decades-long military occupation of lands they wanted to create a future state.
Tense peace in Gaza
Bombings and ground attacks have been carried out by Israel More than 1.8 million people displaced inside GazaAccording to the United Nations, about 80% of the region's population, and the majority, have sought refuge in the south.
The ceasefire has allowed Aid delivered to Gaza by 160 to 200 trucks daily, but that is less than half what Gaza was importing before the fighting, even though needs have increased. People looking to stock up on fuel and other basic items have to wait for hours in long lines that form before dawn.
As UN-run shelters fill up, many people have been forced to sleep outside on the streets in the cold, rainy weather. The head of the World Health Organization warned on Monday about the dire conditions in overcrowded shelters, saying "more people may die from disease than from bombing."
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said about 111,000 people have respiratory infections and 75,000 have diarrhea, more than half of them under the age of 5. He also urged a continued ceasefire, calling it "a matter of life and death".
On Tuesday, Israel and Hamas blamed each other for a brief exchange of fire in northern Gaza, but it did not appear to threaten the ceasefire. Palestinian militants halt rocket attacks into Israel, as did Lebanon's Hezbollah Repeated firefights with Israeli forces On the northern border since the beginning of the war.
Magdi reported from Cairo and Liedman from Jerusalem.
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