Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas have agreed to a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip set to start on Friday, but the deal has faced last-minute delays over outstanding issues related to a prisoner swap.
The latest clashes are part of long-running tensions between Israel and Hamas. Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, and Israel imposed a blockade on the territory, citing security concerns. Since then, the sides have fought four wars and numerous smaller battles.
This recent round of fighting began on October 7 when Israel launched a surprise military operation in Gaza, saying it was targeting the Islamic Jihad militant group over an "imminent threat." However, the fighting quickly expanded to include Hamas as well.
Over the past seven weeks, more than 230 Palestinians have been killed, including fighters and civilians. Dozens of Israelis have also died.
Both sides now appear ready for a ceasefire, but they remain at odds over Israel’s detention of Palestinians and the remains of two Israeli soldiers held by Hamas.
Ceasefire Deal Faces Delays
On Thursday, Israel continued to pound Gaza with airstrikes ahead of an expected truce. Israel said it hit 300 Hamas targets, including tunnels, weapon depots and military posts.
Hamas and other groups fired dozens of rockets at southern Israel.
The two sides said last week they had reached an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire agreement. The truce was meant to take effect at 11:30 p.m. local time on Sunday.
However, the deal has been delayed over outstanding issues related to Israel’s release of Palestinian prisoners and Hamas’ handover of remains and hostages. Israel is demanding Hamas return two Israeli civilians and the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in a 2014 war. Hamas wants Israel to release hundreds of Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons.
As of Thursday evening, the ceasefire appeared close but still elusive as talks continued behind the scenes.
"Intensive efforts have been made to reach an agreement, but so far no full formula has been reached that includes the hostage deal," an Egyptian source told Reuters.
Both Israel and Hamas said the truce would begin only after progress was made on the prisoner swap. Previous ceasefire deals in 2009 and 2011 were also enabled by prisoner exchanges.
What Comes Next
If and when a ceasefire takes hold, it could bring a welcome reprieve after weeks of fighting. However, past truces between Israel and Hamas have been short-lived.
Both sides will need to address underlying issues to achieve a lasting peace. Hamas says it wants Israel to lift restrictions on travel and trade in and out of Gaza. Israel sees Hamas as a terrorist group and is unwilling to ease the blockade without security guarantees.
Meanwhile, violence could flare up again if talks on a prisoner exchange break down. Thousands took part in a Hamas rally in Gaza city on Wednesday, with speakers demanding Palestinian prisoners be freed. Families of Israelis held by Hamas also staged protests demanding the return of their loved ones.
With ceasefire negotiations going down to the wire, the coming days will be critical in determining whether the enemies can reach an agreement to pause the bloodshed.
The recent fighting has left a trail of destruction, especially in Gaza.
|At least 230 Palestinians
|Over 1,700 Palestinians
|At least 11 Israelis
|More than 100 Israelis
Palestinian officials say at least 60 children are among those killed in Gaza.
The Gaza Health Ministry says more than 100,000 Palestinians have fled their homes during the hostilities. Over 14,000 housing units in Gaza have suffered partial or total damage.
Timeline of Recent Events
Here is a timeline of key events over the past month:
- October 7: Israel launches surprise military operation in Gaza, targeting the Islamic Jihad militant group. Hamas eventually joins the fighting.
- October 17: Palestinian groups fire over 100 rockets at Israel after Israeli army enters Gaza.
- November 13: Israel and Hamas say they have agreed on Egyptian-brokered ceasefire deal.
- November 20: Ceasefire meant to take effect at 11:30 pm is delayed over outstanding issues.
- November 23: Israel continues airstrikes on Gaza as talks drag on over prisoner exchange. Both sides say fighting will continue until progress is made.
The fighting has prompted international calls for calm and restraint.
- The United States has affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself while urging deescalation by all parties.
- Egypt, Qatar and the UN have been involved in ceasefire mediation efforts.
- The Arab League has condemned Israel’s military operations as "total war and collective punishment."
- Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan labeled Israel a "terror state" over the Gaza strikes.
With the ceasefire still in doubt, the world is watching anxiously and hoping the enemies can find a off-ramp to end the weeks-long crisis.
What Are the Key Issues?
The Israel-Hamas conflict revolves around several interlocking disputes:
Control of Gaza
- Hamas seeks greater economic opportunities and freedom of movement for Gazans. Israel considers Hamas a terror group and is unwilling to ease the blockade.
- Hamas holds two Israeli civilians and remains of two soldiers. It wants Israel to release hundreds of Palestinians in return.
- Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent weapons reaching Gaza militants. Palestinian groups cite the blockade as a justification for rocket attacks.
- Tensions in the holy city often spill over to inflame the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
- Palestinians seek an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel captured both areas in 1967.
What Do Both Sides Want?
- End of Israeli blockade and travel restrictions on Gaza
- Release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel
- Independent Palestinian state with capital in East Jerusalem
- Halt to rocket attacks from Gaza
- Return of soldiers’ remains and release of civilians held by Hamas
- Security guarantees and demilitarization of Gaza Strip
- No concessions to Hamas as a terror group
With neither side willing to budge on key issues, resolving the conflict remains a distant prospect despite occasional ceasefires.
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