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Peace and Conflict

Israeli cabinet approves limited hostage deal | Update 22nd November 2023

Israeli cabinet approves limited hostage deal via BICom

Hostage deal:  On Tuesday night the cabinet approved the deal to release 50 hostages from Gaza.

  • At the end of a long meeting in which ministers received a detailed security briefing, thirty-five ministers voted in favour and only the three ministers (from Jewish Power) voted against.
  • The deal was also backed by the heads of the security establishment: the army, Shin Bet and Mossad.    
  • The arrangement calls for an initial four day pause in fighting.
  • Over the four days Hamas will release 30 children, eight mothers and twelve elderly women, all alive.
  • In return Israel will release around 150 Palestinian terrorists who were not convicted of murder.
  • In addition, hundreds of trucks with humanitarian aid, medical aid and fuel will enter the entire Gaza Strip.
  • Hamas claims that Israel would entirely stop the use of aircraft in the southern Gaza Strip for four days. In the northern Gaza Strip, aerial activity will be halted for six hours every day, between 1000 - 1600.
  • The humanitarian corridor will remain open allowing Gazans to leave the north for the south, but not to return to the north.
  • The deal will see three Palestinian minors or women serving prison sentences in Israel released for every Israeli who is freed.
  • At this point the deal only includes Israeli civilians, not soldiers or foreign nationals.
  • The names of the Palestinian terrorists who are to be released will be published later today on an official website, after which anyone who wishes to petition the High Court of Justice against their release will have 24 hours to do so.
  • The deal could be extended; for every release of ten more Israeli hostages there will be an additional day of paused hostilities.
  • The deal is expected to go into effect on Thursday morning.
  • Prime Minister Netanyahu confirmed that as part of the deal International Red Cross officials would be visiting the remaining hostages.

Inside Gaza Strip: The IDF released a photo showing they have breached the blast proof door in the tunnel found underneath the Shifa hospital.

  • By gaining access inside, the IDF are understood to be cautiously exploring the tunnel, wary that it could be booby trapped, in an effort to gather intelligence and then decommission it.
  • Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) announced the death of one of the Israeli hostages, Hannah Katzir, a 77 year old lady from Kibbutz Nir Oz. Her husband Rami was killed on October 7 when she was kidnapped. Her family confirmed that she was frail and had expressed grave concern for her survival without her regular medication.
  • Earlier in the day IDF Chief of Staff Halevi met with reserve soldiers in the Gaza Strip. He told them, "The ground operations create better conditions for the return of the hostages, and we will continue with this pressure."
  • The IDF continued its advances on the ground in northern Gaza an air strikes on Hamas targets in the south. 

The north: Hezbollah claimed 13 attacks on Israel throughout yesterday.

  • Early yesterday evening, multiple rockets were launched towards Israel’s Western and Upper Galilee regions, causing sirens to sound in Kiryat Shmona and other communities. The IDF responded with fire to the source of the attacks.
  • Four Hamas terrorists were killed in an Israeli drone strike in Chaatiyeh, southern Lebanon yesterday. Unconfirmed social media reports suggested that one of the dead was Khalil Kharaz, deputy commander of Hamas’s Lebanon wing.
  • Earlier, Lebanese officials claimed that two journalists and a civilian were killed when the IDF struck multiple Hezbollah anti-tank missile squads in southern Lebanon.
  • This strike came in response to three anti-tank guided missiles fired from Lebanon at the Metula area of northern Israel yesterday morning. An Israeli army post on the border also received mortar fire.
  • In response to the Israeli strike, Hezbollah claimed to have fired two anti-tank missiles at the northern community of Menara.
  • Also yesterday, the IDF launched interceptor missiles at several “suspicious aerial targets” – likely drones – which entered Israel’s northern airspace.

Context: The deal came about following intense diplomatic efforts from the US in consultation with the Qataris. On the US side, direct pressure was brought to bear by President Biden, enhanced by the experienced mediation of CIA Director William Burns.

  • Qatari Prime Minister Al Thani led the interaction with Hamas officials, many of whom are based in Doha. Mossad chief Barnea represented Israel in these conversations.
  • Qatar hosts the external Hamas leadership, and conducted its discussions with them, but the negotiations also required buy-in from the Hamas leadership in Gaza.
  • This process was complemented by a second track involving the head of the Shin Bet Ronen Bar, and the head of Egyptian intelligence Abbas Kamel. This is a more familiar track: Egyptian intelligence has often previously acted as conduit between Israel and Hamas.
  • Israel’s security cabinet was thought to have been split on the wisdom of agreeing to deal involving a pause in fighting in Gaza. Defence Minister Gallant favoured pressing home Israel’s advantage, and apparently argued that the more Hamas was degraded, the better a hostage deal could be extracted from its leaders. Ministers Gantz and Eisenkot, as well as Shas leader Aryeh Deri, led the argument in favour of the deal, believing that it was the best, and possible the only, deal Israel could expect to receive.
  • The impassioned publicity campaign waged by the families, which included a march from Tel Aviv to the prime minister’s office, was also effective in persuading the political echelon to favour a deal.
  • Reflecting the debate in the Israeli media, Yediot Ahronot features two opposing opinions, Nahum Barnea arguing in favour and Yossi Yehoshua against.
  • Barnea wrote “the options were bad and the decisions were hard… This isn’t a deal. A deal is a dirty word when talking about a terrorist organisation. This is blackmail, coercion. But in the situation that has developed, Israel has no choice but to pay the price. The alternative of forsaking the hostages a second time, after they were first forsaken on October 7, would have been far worse and far more dangerous. Beyond the price it could end up costing in blood and lives, it would have left an indelible stain on the Israeli government and the IDF.”
  • Yehoshua counters that “the enemy is an irrational actor, a shockingly vicious murderer who is also familiar with Israeli society’s soft underbelly. Just like he recognised the domestic crisis as a window of opportunity for an attack, so too has he utilised the hostages to get oxygen and to prepare for what comes next. From his standpoint, the price is negligible: he doesn’t care about the people of Gaza, and he definitely doesn’t care about the Israeli women and children. Somehow, the monster who sent terrorists to butcher us will still get legitimacy thanks to 50 hostages, out of more than 200, and that legitimacy will help him secure a total ceasefire… the IDF’s offensive momentum will be stopped…”
  • In the latest sign of coordination between the Axis of Resistance, Hezbollah leader Nasrallah met with senior Hamas officials based in Lebanon.
  • Lebanese sources have suggested that the ceasefire will also include the northern border, but Israel has made no official commitment to this. 
  • Meanwhile in the West Bank on Tuesday, 5 Palestinians were killed in two IDF drones strikes in Tulkarm.  Among those targeted was Rami al-Shumali, the commander of Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs Battalions in the area, together with operatives from PIJ.

Humanitarian efforts: According to Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories (COGAT), the following efforts are being made:

  • Jordan is setting up a field hospital in Khan Yunis, which is expected to be operational in a couple of days.
  • A United Arab Emirates field hospital finalised the planning process and expected to be set up in the coming days.
  • 27 Wounded children left Gaza to receive medical care in the UAE.
  • 86 cancer patients left Gaza to receive medical care in Turkey.
  • So far, 354 ill and wounded have exited the Gaza Strip for medical treatment in Egypt, the UAE and Turkey. 
  • On Tuesday, 6,500 more people evacuated south. So far, over 350,000 people have evacuated from the northern Gaza Strip to its southern part.

Looking ahead: The ceasefire is expected to begin at 0600 local time tomorrow.

  • The first group of 10-12 Israeli hostages are expected to be released a few hours later.
  • The hostages will be handed over to the Red Cross and then on to the IDF where they will undergo medical examination and then be reunited with their families.
  • It is anticipated that they will all receive a security debrief with extra care taken to provide the children with appropriate paediatric care.

via BICom