Gaza truce extended for another day amid intense pressure

Destruction in a residential area of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza, on 29 November.

Mohammed Alaswad APA images

Israel and Hamas agreed to extend a temporary truce by another day just minutes before the agreement was set to expire Thursday morning.

Despite international pressure for an indefinite ceasefire, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated on Wednesday that his war cabinet intends to “fight until the end” in Gaza.

Netanyahu said that the goals of eliminating Hamas and ensuring “that Gaza will never again be a threat to Israel … remain the same.”

Netanyahu added that Israel will resume hostilities “after this phase of returning our abductees is exhausted.”

The temporary truce that began last Friday was extended by two days beginning Tuesday.

As the clock wound down early Thursday morning to the expiration of the ceasefire, and no agreement on another extension had been reached, Hamas’ military wing instructed its soldiers to prepare for a resumption of fighting in case the truce was not renewed.

During each day of the truce, Hamas has released women, children and foreign nationals held in Gaza since its 7 October attack in exchange for Palestinian women and children held in Israeli prisons and detention centers.

Israel says that 1,200 people were killed during Hamas’ surprise 7 October attack. At least 15,000 Palestinians – the majority of them women and children – were killed in Israel’s military campaign that followed, which also has destroyed much of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure. Most of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million, the majority already refugees, have been displaced.

Human rights groups and experts warn of a genocide unfolding in Gaza as Israeli leaders openly call for a mass expulsion of Palestinians from the territory.

Israel is under international pressure to extend the truce. Scaled-up delivery of aid is needed across Gaza to prevent an even worse humanitarian catastrophe than the one already underway as a result of Israel’s total war and complete siege.

The head of the World Health Organization warned on Wednesday that “given the living conditions and lack of health care, more people could die from disease than bombings.”

The UN’s human rights office stated that a permanent ceasefire was necessary “on human rights and humanitarian grounds to bring the deaths and destruction to an end and to prevent an irreversible catastrophe for the civilians of Gaza.”

Meanwhile, domestic outrage over US President Joe Biden’s “no daylight,” unconditional support for Israel threatens the Democrats’ hold on the White House in next year’s election.

Washington’s regional allies fear that Israel intends to push Palestinians out of Gaza and then the West Bank, which would spell upheaval in their countries, particularly Egypt and Jordan.

Citing Iran’s foreign minister, The New York Times reported on Wednesday that since the outset of the current crisis in Gaza, “Tehran and Washington have exchanged multiple messages saying that neither side wants to escalate the war.”

Netanyahu – blamed by many in Israel for allowing the 7 October attacks to occur on his watch – is meanwhile fighting for his own political survival and the preservation of his divisive coalition filled with volatile extremists.

Hamas has signaled its readiness for a more long-term truce.

The Reuters news agency, citing an unnamed Israeli official, reported earlier Wednesday that “Israel believes Hamas has enough women and children hostages to allow the current pause in fighting in Gaza to be extended by another two to three days.”

The Israeli official said that “any additional agreement would be conditional on first of all releasing these remaining women and children and only then could we negotiate follow-on agreements.”

Hamas “may struggle to locate captives”

The Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, announced on Wednesday that three captives, all members of the same family, had been previously killed in an Israeli strike.

The three captives that Qassam said were killed include a 10-month-old baby and four-year-old child and their mother. Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said that the claim was unconfirmed.

On Tuesday, an Israeli military spokesperson said that the mother and her two children had been transferred by Hamas to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a leftist faction.

In at least one instance, a captive who was reported by a Palestinian group to have died in custody was later released alive.

Citing Palestinian and Egyptian security sources, Reuters reported on Wednesday that Hamas “may struggle to locate more captives in the chaos of the conflict.”

While the 7 October attack was planned and led by Hamas, thousands of Palestinians crossed the Gaza-Israel boundary that day and other fighters seized people now held in the territory.

Around 160 captives remained in Gaza on Wednesday. Reuters cited two Palestinian sources close to the truce efforts explaining that “the talks are focused at present on swapping non-soldiers – meaning Israeli civilians, dual nationals and foreigners, but no talks about the soldiers [captured on 7 October] are underway.”

In exchange for the captive Israeli soldiers, Hamas is seeking the release of all of the thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons for the soldiers it is holding in Gaza.

Such an exchange has a precedent: More than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners were released in exchange for a captured Israeli soldier in 2011.

Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza and Israel’s number one enemy, was released as part of that deal.

Hardliners in the Israeli government, not least among them Itamar Ben-Gvir, the national security minister and kingmaker in Netanyahu’s fragile ruling coalition, are fiercely opposed to any such swap.

Some relatives of the captives in Gaza have called for an “everyone for everyone” prisoner exchange.

Emptying the prisons would be a bitter pill to swallow for Netanyahu’s extreme right government and for many in Israel’s opposition parties, as well as the Israeli public more broadly.

But Israel may have little choice but to capitulate to Hamas if Washington has lost appetite for more bloodshed in Gaza. Recent reports indicate that Biden doesn’t want Israel to repeat in southern Gaza the destruction and displacement wrought in the north.

Israel can’t go it alone in Gaza without Washington’s support for very long.

As David Horovitz writes in The Times of Israel, Israel relies on the US materially for both its rocket interceptor missiles and the weapons it is using against Gaza.

Nearly two months in, Horowitz observes, the “utterly unprepared” Israeli military “is still failing to so much as reliably provide food for all of its unprecedented numbers of called-up soldiers.”

“Without the US administration at Israel’s side … the consequences would be beyond stark. We would be lost,” Horowitz states.

The Biden administration still supports Israel’s stated goal of putting Hamas out of power – a goal that was impossibly maximalist to begin with, and today seems completely out of touch with reality on the ground.

If anything, the last several weeks have only improved the stature of Hamas – among Palestinians, across the Arab countries and beyond – and further marginalized the deeply unpopular Palestinian Authority.

With newly released Palestinian prisoners and people in the streets thanking the leader and spokesperson of Hamas’ military wing for winning their freedom, there is a cemented belief among Palestinians that only armed resistance will exact concessions from Israel.

Meanwhile, tireless advocacy by the family members of the captives in Gaza helped keep negotiations for their release at the top of the agenda despite a lack of urgency by the Israeli government as it focused on carpet bombing the territory.

Zohar Avigdori, whose sister-in-law and niece were among those held in Gaza since 7 October and released during the truce, said this week that the Hostages and Missing Families Forum organized to pressure the Israeli government to secure the return of the captives while the military prioritized the stated goal of toppling Hamas.

Avigdori said that the contract between the state of Israel and its citizens was “violently and brutally broken” on 7 October and that fracture would take “decades to cure.”

Ahed Tamimi released from Israeli detention

After a delay, Israeli media reported late Wednesday that the handover of 10 Israeli and four Thai captives had proceeded after two Israeli women with Russian citizenship were released earlier in the day.

Thirty Palestinian women and children were freed from behind Israeli bars late Wednesday.

Ahed Tamimi is among the most prominent Palestinians released in recent days. The protest icon from Nabi Saleh village in the West Bank was arrested at her home on the personal orders of Itamar Ben-Gvir allegedly over a social media post that her family says she had nothing to do with.

Ben-Gvir released a photo showing an Israeli soldier restraining Tamimi as she sat on a bed in her home.

For three weeks, Israel held Tamimi in Damon prison near Haifa, a city in Israel, without charge or trial under administrative detention order. Around 2,500 Palestinians of the 7,000 Palestinian political prisoners held by Israel are being detained without charge or trial, according to the Palestinian human rights group Addameer.

The detention of residents of occupied territory in prisons outside of that territory is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and “is also recognized as a war crime under Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,” notes Addameer, the Palestinian human rights and prisoner advocacy group.

The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his children’s rights commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova for alleged violations of Article 8 and other articles of the Rome Statute. Though it has an open investigation in Palestine, the ICC has not made any arrest warrants against Israeli officials for the same war crimes routinely perpetrated against Palestinian children for decades.

Nor have UN officials repeatedly and forcefully called for the unconditional release of Palestinians held unlawfully without charge or trial in violation of international law as they have called for the immediate, unconditional release of all the captives in Gaza.

Upon her release, Tamimi said that the situation in Israeli prisons is very difficult, and that Palestinians are denied food and water and made to sleep on the ground. She said that Israeli prison authorities threatened to kill her activist father, Bassem Tamimi, who is himself imprisoned, if she spoke out.

Qassam captives released

The Qassam Brigades published another video showing the handover of captives to the International Committee of the Red Cross on Wednesday. Like other videos in recent days, Wednesday’s showed a large crowd chanting in support of the armed resistance group and cheering as masked, armed fighters guide two women out of a van.

Another video showing Qassam’s release of captives to the International Committee of the Red Cross early Thursday will surely frustrate Israel’s PR efforts.

That video depicts multiple groups of captives being handed over, this time without public spectators.

Some of the released captives, who appear to be around the age of Israeli military conscription, are seen giving Qassam fighters firm handshakes while smiling, while others wave as they say goodbye. One of the Qassam fighters says goodbye to one of the young men, Itai, by name, and the youth responds with kind words.

One woman gives high-fives to the Qassam fighters and says “thank you” in Arabic as someone, presumably a Qassam member, says “good luck” in English. She salutes the camera when she is seated in the ICRC vehicle.

A group of released Thai workers hug the Qassam fighters before entering the vehicle. One of the Thai men blows the Qassam men an air kiss from inside.

The video ends with the Qassam fighters bowing in prayer after the ICRC vehicles depart and before they raise their rifles in the air – a display of their identity as an armed resistance group rooted in Islam.

Qassam has sought to demonstrate its fighters’ humanity in its videos of its handover of the captive civilians.

Israel suffered severe embarrassment following the release of Yocheved Lifshitz in October.

The 85-year-old Israeli woman was seen turning around and shaking the hands of a Hamas fighter when she was handed over to the ICRC. Once back in Israel, she gave a press conference from Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital in which she described the humane treatment she received in Gaza after an initially harrowing capture.

The hospital’s spokesperson faced a fierce backlash and the prospect of dismissal for allowing the press conference.

Israel is now sequestering the released detainees in special hospital wings beyond the reach of the media or general public.

Now, much of what is being reported in Israeli and international media about the experience of now released captives held in Gaza is being relayed second-hand by their family members.

Reuters, citing what they acknowledge to be second-hand and unverified reports, said the captives “speak of being beaten and threatened with death, moved from place to place and forced to whisper during weeks spent with little to do.”

Only a couple of the people held captive in Gaza have publicly provided first-hand testimony of their experiences so far.

A 78-year-old Israeli woman said in an interview with Israel’s Channel 13 that “she had initially been fed well in captivity until conditions worsened and people became hungry,” The Times of Israel reported.

Ruti Munder said that she had spent nearly 50 days in captivity with her daughter and now 9-year-old grandson. Her husband remains in Gaza and her son was killed during the 7 October attack in Nir Oz kibbutz, The Times of Israel added.

Munder said that they initially ate “chicken with rice, all sorts of canned food and cheese,” as well as tea and sweets, but that changed when “the economic situation was not good, and people were hungry.”

On 9 October, Israel announced a complete siege on Gaza and banned the entry of food, electricity, fuel and water and other life necessities to the territory for weeks while bombing it relentlessly.

Lifshitz, the Israeli senior released last month whose husband is still held captive in Gaza, told an Israeli publication on Tuesday that she confronted Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar a few days into her captivity.

“I asked him how he wasn’t ashamed of himself, to do such a thing to people who for years supported peace. He didn’t answer. He was quiet,” Lifshitz said.

UN leaders and the ICRC have called for the immediate and unconditional release of all the captives held in Gaza.

International human rights groups including Amnesty International have said that Palestinian resistance groups “committing war crimes by holding scores of Israelis and others as hostages in Gaza,” as Human Rights Watch stated in October.

The New York-based group added that “civilians, including children, people with disabilities, and older people, should never be treated as bargaining chips.”

From the earliest days of the war, Hamas indicated that it was willing to return all the captured civilians. But it said that finding and transporting them safely – since many had been brought to Gaza by other groups or unaffiliated civilians – would be impossible without a truce.

Three women and a girl were unilaterally released by the Qassam Brigades in two separate instances before the truce was declared.

As soon as Israel agreed to the truce, which it had rejected for weeks, Hamas began releasing the rest.




"I asked him how he wasn’t ashamed of himself, to do such a thing to people who for years supported peace." For Lifshitz, "peace" means stolen land, apartheid, administrative detention, Palestinian prisoners starved & sleeping on the ground, Ben-Gvir, murder in broad daylight by "Israel" soldiers/police/settlers, open air prison, on and on. But Lifshitz thinks that "peace".

Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.