Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas have agreed to a ceasefire deal that will see several hostages freed on both sides. The Egyptian-brokered deal brings a halt to nearly three days of intense fighting that has left dozens dead.
Key Details of the Ceasefire Deal
- Ceasefire to begin at 7am local time (0500 GMT) on Friday November 25
- Hamas to free Israeli civilian hostage Avera Mengistu
- Israel to free jailed Palestinian militant Bassam al-Saadi
- Over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners to be released in coming months
"A few minutes after 11pm on Thursday, the security cabinet unanimously approved the recommendations presented by the security establishment for an Egyptian-sponsored ceasefire in Gaza," said a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.
Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh said the ceasefire would "achieve the goals of our Palestinian people". US President Joe Biden praised the deal, saying his administration worked behind the scenes to help broker it.
Timeline of Latest Israel-Hamas Conflict
Tensions between Israel and Hamas began building in early November after Israeli forces arrested Bassam al-Saadi, a senior leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, in the occupied West Bank.
Israel then closed roads around Gaza and sent troop reinforcements to the border, triggering barrages of rocket fire from Hamas towards Israeli border towns. This sparked major retaliatory air strikes from Israel.
Over three days of fighting, at least 44 Palestinians – nearly half of them civilians and including 15 children – were killed. Shelling and missiles wounded 360 others, the Gaza health ministry said.
|Israel arrests Bassam al-Saadi, senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader
|Israel launches pre-emptive airstrikes on Gaza
|Hamas unleashes heavy rocket fire towards Israel
|Dozens killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza
|Intense fighting and air strikes continue
|Reports emerge of ceasefire deal
|Israel approves ceasefire agreement
|Ceasefire begins, hostages freed
Meanwhile in Israel, 24 civilians were treated for injuries or shock, according to emergency responders.
The latest round of violence follows a three-day conflict in August and several smaller skirmishes over recent months. It also comes amid a nationwide election campaign in Israel.
Ceasefire Deal Hinged on ‘Proof of Life’ for Israeli Hostage
The negotiations focused on Avera Mengistu, an Israeli civilian who crossed into Gaza in September 2014 and has been held by Hamas since. Little has been revealed about his condition, and Hamas has never published any pictures or video of him.
The breakthrough in securing his release came after Hamas provided ‘proof of life’ evidence that he was still alive, according to Qatar’s ambassador to Gaza. Once verified by Israel, this opened the way for the final ceasefire deal.
Mohammed Al-Emadi, Qatar’s envoy to Gaza, said his government had worked behind the scenes for eight years to secure Mengistu’s release. US officials were also heavily involved in recent days to help cement the deal.
Under the agreement, Hamas will free Mengistu and hand him over to Egyptian mediators. Israel will then release hundreds of Palestinian inmates in several stages.
Israel Vows Further Action Against Hamas
Despite agreeing to the truce, Israeli officials said they will continue their crackdown on Hamas militants in the coastal enclave.
"The reality on the ground will determine what happens next. If Hamas breaks the quiet and attacks Israel, our response will be severe,” a senior Israeli military official warned.
The ceasefire deal has prompted some criticism within Netanyahu’s right-wing governing coalition, which favours a much tougher line against Palestinian militants.
Some commentators said it amounted to negotiating with terrorists and sent the message that hostage-taking pays off. Others argued that bringing an Israeli citizen home was the top priority.
Outgoing Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said the military would be ready to resume strikes on Hamas targets after the truce expires.
What’s Next? Expect an Uneasy Truce
With so much bad blood on both sides, the Egypt-brokered truce may only lead to a limited de-escalation. Few analysts expect it to last long or lead to sustained calm.
Hamas still faces crippling economic conditions under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after it seized control of Gaza. Nearly 80% of residents live under the poverty line.
Israel argues its closure regime is essential to stop weapons flowing into the coastal territory. It continues to designate Hamas a terrorist group and refuses direct talks.
The wider peace process between Israel and the Palestinians also remains essentially frozen. This will likely lead to further tension and outbreaks of violence sooner rather than later.
Hamas insists that any long-term arrangement must address economic and humanitarian conditions in Gaza. But after 15 years of blockade, there is no political will in Israel to ease restrictions substantially.
Previous ceasefire deals over the years – brokered by Egypt, Qatar and the UN – have eventually broken down over disagreements about easing the Israeli siege, prisoner releases, Hamas military capabilities and reconstruction efforts.
So while the current Egypt-brokered truce is a positive step in the short-term, early indications suggest it will fail to tackle the underlying drivers of recurrent conflict. An uneasy truce may hold for now, but expect further violence down the road.
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