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Peace and Conflict

Cautious optimism over partial hostage deal | Update 20th November 2023

Cautious optimism over partial hostage deal via BICom

Hostages: There is mounting speculation over an arrangement that will see the release of around 52 hostages: children, their mothers as well as possibly the sick and elderly held captive inside Gaza.

  • Negotiations, mediated by the US and Qatar, are thought to have reached an understanding that in return for the hostages, Israel will agree to a four or five day ceasefire, allow 200 trucks a day of humanitarian aid to enter Gaza from Egypt and release between 150-250 Palestinian prisoners – women and teenagers.
  • The outstanding issues are thought to be logistical, including the sequencing of the release and Hamas’s insistence that the ceasefire includes Israel halting its aerial intelligence via monitoring drones. Hamas claim that they will spend the first day of the ceasefire finding the kidnapped children whose location they do not know, but can’t do this if they are being tracked.      
  • Another demand of Hamas is to allow humanitarian aid to also reach the northern Gaza Strip.

Shifa Hospital: The IDF continued their operation in the northern Gaza Strip, including in the Shifa Hospital compound.   

  • The IDF presented more evidence that the hospital was used as terrorist infrastructure.
  • IDF troops exposed a 55-metre-long terror tunnel 10 meters deep underneath the hospital complex. The IDF noted, “A deep staircase leads to the entrance of the tunnel shaft, which consists of various defence means including a blast-proof door and a firing hole. This type of door is used by the Hamas terrorist organisation to block Israeli forces from entering the command centres and the underground assets belonging to Hamas. The tunnel shaft was uncovered in the area of the hospital underneath a shed alongside a vehicle containing numerous weapons including RPGs, explosives, and Kalashnikov rifles.” 
  • The IDF also releases footage, taken from CCTV at the hospital entrance, showing Hamas terrorists forcibly transporting hostages – a Nepalese civilian and a Thai civilian, who were kidnapped from Israeli territory.
  • The IDF also found the bodies of two of the hostages in different buildings near the hospital.
  • An IDF vehicle stolen during the massacre can also be seen inside the hospital area.
  • The IDF continues to operate in other neighbourhoods to the West of Gaza City. During operations, the IDF arrested over 100 Hamas terrorists, three of whom are from the elite Nukhba unit which took part in the October 7th Massacre. The IDF have also killed a dozen more combatants, including three additional Hamas company commanders.

Iranian proxies: Attacks from Hezbollah towards northern Israel appeared to intensify again on Sunday, with 11 attacks recorded across the length of the Lebanese border.

  • Meanwhile, in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, the Houthis hijacked a cargo ship partly owned by an Israeli businessman.
  • Israel, according to the Israeli Prime Miniter’s office, “strongly condemns the Iranian attack against an international vessel. The ship, which is owned by a British company and is operated by a Japanese firm, was hijacked with Iran guidance by the Yemenite Houthi militia. Onboard the vessel are 25 crew members of various nationalities including Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Filipino and Mexican. No Israelis are onboard. This is another act of Iranian terrorism and constitutes a leap forward in Iran's aggression against the citizens of the free world, with international consequences regarding the security of the global shipping lanes.”

Context: The evidence presented from Shifa appears to back up the IDF claim, “that numerous buildings in the hospital's complex are used by Hamas as cover for terrorist infrastructure and activities. This is further evidence of the cynical manner [in which] Hamas uses the residents of the Gaza Strip as a human shield for their murderous terrorist activities.”

  • Having initially entered from the north and the centre, bisecting the Strip and surrounding Gaza City, the IDF is targeting other Hamas strongholds in the west.
  • The overall fighting remains intense. Over the weekend, several more IDF soldiers have been killed, taking the total in over three weeks of the ground campaign to 65.    
  • According to military intelligence, of Hamas’s 24 Battalions, 14 are in the northern half of the Strip, 10 of which are now significantly depleted. Those that escaped are thought to have  joined the remaining four.    
  • In his weekly address on Saturday night, Prime Minister Netanyahu added a third objective of the war (after destroying Hamas and returning the captives), that on the days after, “it is impossible to put in Gaza an authority that supports terror, abets terror, and pays terrorists.” Adding, “there is another condition that I set for the day after: the IDF will have complete freedom of action in the Gaza Strip against any threat. Only in this way will we guarantee the demilitarisation of Gaza.”
  • This appears to rule out the Palestinian Authority (PA) assuming control, which puts the Israeli government at odds with the US. However Netanyahu also believes, “we will reach an agreement with the US also about this.”
  • On Sunday the PA appeared to compound their problematic stance, releasing a statement suggesting that it was Israeli helicopters that bombed and killed Israeli civilians on October 7 during the Supernova music festival. They later deleted the statement.
  • Netanyahu responded harshly, calling the statement “utterly preposterous.” He added, “it isn’t enough that for 44 days Abu Mazen has refused to condemn the terrible massacre, now his men are denying that massacre and are turning the tables on Israel. Abu Mazen the Holocaust-denier is now denying the Hamas-ISIS massacre.
  • In a more supportive stance, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad of Bahrain condemned Hamas. He described the October 7th massacre of Israelis as “barbaric” and demanded the release of the Israeli hostages.
  • Regarding the potential hostage deal, the inner war cabinet appears divided. Ministers Gantz and Eisenkot have argued that this opportunity won’t return and that this is the right time to secure the release of the women and children. Defence Minister Gallant favours continuing the fighting in order to defeat Hamas. There is concern that the ceasefire will give Hamas valuable days to reorganise and resupply.

Looking ahead: Tonight the War Cabinet will meet with representatives of the families of the hostages.

  • Any deal will need to be approved by the full cabinet.    

via BICom