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Peace and Conflict

Hostage release delayed, heavy rocket fire from the north | Update 23rd November 2023

Hostage release delayed, heavy rocket fire from the north via BICom

Hostages: The anticipated ceasefire to allow for the release of Israeli hostages has been delayed until tomorrow morning at the earliest.

  • National Security Council Director Tzahi Hanegbi announced the holdup shortly after midnight last night, with Israeli officials briefing that “the delay isn’t substantive, but technical… We expect that the deal will be implemented and that this is a last-minute delay.”
  • Mossad Director David Barnea and Maj. Gen. (res.) Nitzan Alon, in Qatar to finalise the agreement, discovered “holes” in a few of the clauses.
  • According to Israeli sources, although a list of names has been submitted, the delay is because Hamas has not confirmed their health status. In addition, according to the terms of agreement, Hamas is expected to release the names of each batch to be freed the night before.
  • Qatari officials said that talks were “progressing positively” and to expect an announcement on timings in the next hours.
  • Diego Engelbert, whose sister Karina, brother-in-law Ronen and their daughters Mika and Yuval are hostages in Gaza said of the delay: “These ups and downs are killing us. We were holding onto a ray of hope and once again it’s gone — this is part of the psychological terror we go through on a daily basis.”

Palestinian Prisoners: In return for 50 hostages Israel has agreed to release 150 Palestinian prisoners.

  • According to the provisions of the agreement. Hamas can extend the pause in fighting by a an extra day for every additional 10 hostages released, beyond the initial 50. In that scenario, Israeli will in turn release an additional 30 prisoners.
  • Therefore Israel has released a list of 300 prisoners eligible for the release, that meet the agreed criteria, male prisoners under the age of 18 and female prisoners, all of whom have not committed murder. Although many faced charges of attempted murder.
  • Many of the prisoner committed stabbing attacks, or attempted stabbings. Others carried out car-ramming attacks or helped prepare explosive devises. One 15 year old boy shot and injured two Israelis with an improvised submachine in East Jerusalem.
  • The youngest on the list includes five 14 years old boys, the oldest is a 59-year-old woman.
  • The prisoners are mostly from the West Bank with a few who infiltrated from Gaza and 74 from East Jerusalem.
  • The list includes multi affiliated prisoners, including from Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Fatah, and other smaller terror organisations. Some of them have no affiliation.
  • Many of the youths are in prison under administrative detention as their trial has not yet taken place, with the majority of the list male teenagers arrested in the past two years.

Gaza Strip: The IDF this morning announced it had struck some 300 sites over the last day, including command centres, tunnels, weapons depots, weapon manufacturing sites and anti-tank missile launch positions.

  • IDF continue to make advances in Jabaliya, while combat engineers found and destroyed a Hamas tunnel shaft in Beit Hanoun.
  • The IDF yesterday announced the deaths of two soldiers in northern Gaza, taking the death toll since the beginning of ground operations to 70.
  • Meanwhile, the IDF yesterday confirmed it had destroyed some 400 terror tunnel shafts in the Strip since the start of the ground incursion.
  • This morning, sirens warned of incoming rocket fire in both Kerem Shalom, on the Israel-Gaza border, and in Ashkelon in southern Israel. Despite advances, Hamas are still able to launch rockets, now almost exclusively from the southern Gaza. Overall, the have fired over 10,000 rockets.    

The north: This morning, air raid sirens sounded across the north as around 50 rockets fired from Lebanon towards northern Israel.

  • This is the most intense barrage of rockets fired from the north in the last few years.
  • Hezbollah claimed early this morning that five of its terrorists, including Abbas Raad, son of the head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc Mohammed Raad, had been killed in clashes on the northern border.
  • Lebanese sources further claimed that the five had been killed in an Israeli strike yesterday on a house in Beit Yahun, southern Lebanon.
  • Hezbollah also announced yesterday that it would respect any ceasefire agreed between Israel and Hamas, despite not being a party to the negotiations.

Context: Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday said that he believed that the first hostage release would lead to others. “The combined military and diplomatic effort led to the ripe conditions for the return of our hostages. I believe this combination will also facilitate the release of additional hostages in the next stages,” he said.

  • Netanyahu emphasised, “the outline that has been achieved does not include the release of murderers. It does include visits by Red Cross representatives to the hostages and the delivery of medicines to them. I heard that there is someone denying this. The Red Cross says that it has not heard; then here is the explicit clause: 'The Red Cross will be allowed to visit the remaining hostages and provide them with needed medicine.' I expect the Red Cross to do its work."
  • In a further example of support from the British Government, Foreign Minister Lord Cameron is visiting Israel today. He spent this morning visiting Kibbutz Be'eri and witnessing firsthand the destruction caused by Hamas on October 7th.
  • The IDF has completed its encirclement of Jabaliya, one the last remaining Hamas strongholds in the north of the Gaza Strip.
  • White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby last night told a US Jewish event that he expects the war to continue after the pause to release the hostages. “The fight is not over. The war is not over. The threat that Hamas poses is still real and still viable to the Israeli people,” he said, adding that the US would “continue to make sure that we’re giving [Israel] the tools the capabilities the weapons systems that they need to continue to go after Hamas.”
  • There is grave concern over this morning's escalation in the north. Despite regular clashes on Israel’s northern border, until now Hezbollah has not previously escalated the conflict to the extent feared. The assessment has been that neither it, nor its Iranian patron, see it as in their interest to provoke a full-scale war at this time.
  • Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen yesterday warned the UN Security Council that Hezbollah must be disarmed if the risk of a regional war is to be avoided.“For the good of regional stability and to avoid further escalation, the next session of the UN Security Council must adopt a totally different approach in order to end the dangerous violations by Hezbollah and other terrorist groups on the border,” he wrote.
  • UN Security Council Resolution 1701 calls the disarming of non-state forces in Lebanon, but this has never been implemented.
  • Lebanese sources have suggested the temporary ceasefire also relates to  the north, but Israel officials have not confirmed this
  • The IDF said yesterday that one of its fighter jets had shot down an incoming cruise missile over the Red Sea, close to Eilat, believed to have been fired by the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.
  • Since the beginning of Israel’s operation in the Gaza Strip, the US and Saudi Arabia have shot down multiple missiles fired by the Houthis towards Eilat.

Looking ahead: If there are no more delays the temporary ceasefire could be announced today and go into effect tomorrow morning, with the first tranche of hostages to be freed later in the day.

  • For the duration of the pause, IDF soldiers are expected to remain in battle positions inside northern Gaza, ever vigilant that Hamas has broken ceasefire agreements in the past.
  • With the pause agreed and hostages released, significant humanitarian aid, including fuel is expected to enter into Gaza from Egypt.

via BICom