Gaza truce extended as Israel threatens even bigger attack

Palestinians leave the northern Gaza Strip via Salah al-Din Road in the al-Zaytoun district on the southern outskirts of Gaza City on 26 November.

Ahmed Ibrahim APA images

Israel and Hamas agreed to extend a pause in hostilities in Gaza for two more days, Qatar’s foreign ministry announced on Monday. The initial four-day pause was set to end on Monday night.

Hamas politburo member Khalil al-Hayya said that the group hoped the truce could be extended for a longer period and that Israelis held in Gaza would continue to be exchanged for Palestinians held by Israel.

Al-Hayya added that Hamas wanted more aid to reach northern Gaza after “negligence and delay” over the past few days.

Since the pause began, Hamas has released 69 people captured during its surprise 7 October attack, during which some 1,200 people were killed. Around 240 people were reportedly captured and taken to Gaza that day.

More than 15,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed in Israeli attacks since 7 October and most of the population of 2.3 million, the vast majority of them already refugees, have been internally displaced.

Israeli strikes have destroyed much of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure and a comprehensive siege imposed on the territory has generated a humanitarian catastrophe that will only get worse with the onset of winter.

On Monday, several organizations raised “serious alarm regarding the ongoing forced displacement of Palestinians in Gaza as part of the Israeli leadership’s stated intent to commit genocide.”

The groups called for an “immediate and permanent ceasefire” and international intervention to “protect the Palestinian people against permanent forced displacement and destruction.”

The organizations, which include the prominent Palestinian human rights groups Al-Haq and Al Mezan, noted that some 1.7 million people in Gaza are internally displaced, with more than 1 million staying at UNRWA facilities serving as emergency shelters.

Israeli politicians are openly calling for the mass expulsion of Palestinians in Gaza and defense minister Yoav Gallant said the military will resume its Gaza campaign for at least another two months.

On Monday, Gallant told soldiers that once the current pause in hostilities ends, the fighting “will be bigger and take place throughout the Gaza Strip.”

After laying waste to northern Gaza, Israel is expected to direct its fury at Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, once fighting resumes. Israeli leaders claimed shortly before the four-day pause took effect that Hamas leaders were holed up in that area and the military dropped leaflets in areas east of the city ordering residents to evacuate.

The six organizations say this portends “either a possible mass deportation of Gaza’s civilian population into Egypt, or a permanent transfer of civilians from the north to the south of Gaza, both in clear violation of international law.”

“Appalling conditions”

Israel has issued evacuation orders in the northern half of Gaza and also areas in the south in what Palestinian human rights groups have condemned as forcible transfer.

Palestinians attempting to evacuate from northern Gaza to the south have been subjected to “inhuman degrading treatment, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention and killings,” the six groups said on Monday.

Israel dropped leaflets in southern Gaza warning people against returning to the north, where widespread destruction has rendered areas uninhabitable, including Gaza City – suggesting “the possibility of permanent displacement of civilians from the north to the south of the Gaza Strip.”

The groups also said that the insufficient amount of aid reaching people who remained in northern Gaza, and restrictions on freedom of movement within and access to the territory more generally, is also a major concern.

These conditions have prevented comprehensive reporting on the needs of hundreds of thousands of civilians in northern Gaza, “including people with disabilities, patients and the wounded, medical personnel, pregnant women, children and the elderly.”

Meanwhile, the groups say that “appalling conditions” at shelters in southern Gaza include “overcrowding, the spread of diseases … grossly insufficient food, drinking water and medication,” all amid the threat of Israeli attacks.

Since the beginning of the pause last Friday, Hamas has released 50 Israeli women and children, 17 Thai workers and a national of the Philippines, and an Israeli man with Russian citizenship.

In exchange, Israel has released 150 Palestinian children and women from its prisons and detention centers, many of them held without charge or trial.

Reports in Israeli and international media indicate that the captives so far released by Hamas were not abused while they were held in Gaza.

Some of the captives were held in tunnels and others in homes and other buildings.

“One group of hostages said they were held in tunnels the entire time and that conditions were difficult in terms of lighting, food and other amenities,” the Tel Aviv daily Haaretz reported.

“They noted that in the past two weeks, there was virtually no food and they had survived mainly on rice.”

Hamas leader pledged not to harm captives

The captives held in “what appeared to be safe houses” had more access to food, Haaretz reported, but were concerned about shelling. Some of the now released captives “were able to follow Israeli media reports and knew what was happening in the outside world,” with one group given access to a radio.

Haaretz added that “the hostages said Hamas had not abused them and that the daily routine in captivity was pretty much the same.”

Medical sources in Israel have told media that the physical health of the released captives was generally good, though Elma Avraham, an 84-year-old woman released on Sunday, is hospitalized in a critical condition.

Physicians for Human Rights Israel said that it appeared that Avraham “did not receive life-saving medication” while she was held in Gaza and “her grave medical condition at the time of release raises a serious concern” that other captives “are not receiving the medical treatment and medication vital for their survival.”

Reiterating calls from the UN secretary-general and international humanitarian organizations, the group called on Hamas to “immediately release all hostages, and in the interim, grant access to them to the International Committee of the Red Cross.”

Physicians for Human Rights Israel said that its attempts to get medication to the captives were apparently unsuccessful, but “we will continue to seek out opportunities to do so” until everyone held in Gaza is released.

Israeli and US officials say that the pause and exchange agreed to with Hamas “includes a clause requiring the Red Cross to visit the hostages who have not been freed by the fourth day of the temporary ceasefire,” The Times of Israel reported. But so far, “no such visits have been reported,” the publication added on Monday.

Israel suspended visits by the Red Cross to the thousands of Palestinians held in its prisons and detention centers in October.

Israel’s Channel 13 reported that “Hamas tried to provide [the captives] their needed medications every day, some days medications could not be provided, but Hamas tried to provide the medications every day.”

On Monday, Israeli media reported that Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, told the captives in Hebrew on 8 October that they would not be harmed and would be released as part of an exchange.

Potential PR blow for Israel

The Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, has released videos of each of the now six instances of its handover of captives to the International Committee of the Red Cross (three women and one girl were released on two separate occasions in October).

Some of the released captives smile and wave at masked and armed Qassam fighters, who are sometimes seen handing them bottles of water before being loaded into Red Cross vehicles.

On Sunday, the Qassam Brigades released the captives in Gaza City’s Palestine Square amid a large crowd assembled near a statue of a fist holding dog tags with question marks – a reference to two Israeli soldiers whose bodies have been held in Gaza since 2014.

The video shows around two dozen Qassam fighters positioned in front of the monument in the heart of Gaza City – a show of force by the resistance exposing Israel’s lack of control over territory in northern Gaza, and the ongoing presence of Hamas in the area.

Videos released by Qassam on Monday show captives being transferred to the Red Cross in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip at night.

Qassam also published on its Telegram channel what it said was a letter from Danielle Aloni, a woman who was released with her young daughter Emilia on Friday.

The letter, handwritten in Hebrew and dated 23 November, thanks the “generals” who were with her for the “extraordinary humanity that you showed towards my daughter.”

Israeli media have not appeared to confirm the authenticity of the letter, which would be a major PR blow as the state has sought to portray Hamas as Nazis who are worse than ISIS to justify its genocidal campaign in Gaza.

In late October, the Qassam Brigades released a video showing Aloni and two other women in which she blames the government of Benjamin Netanyahu for their “political, security and military failure” on 7 October.

In that video, Aloni urged the Israeli government to “release their citizens, release their prisoners … let us go back to our families.”

Abuse of Palestinian children

Meanwhile, the Palestinian children released by Israel in exchange for the captives in Gaza are describing the abuse and mistreatment that they experienced in detention.

A freed prisoner told Al Jazeera on Monday that he was beaten on the bus on the hours-long drive from Nafha prison near Beersheba in Israel to the West Bank:

Muhammad Nazzal, a 16-year-old boy from Qabatiya near Jenin who released on Monday, had his arm in a sling after he was beaten in Naqab prison in southern Israel and not provided with medical attention:
The boy’s mother said that she didn’t know anything about her son’s situation when he was in Israeli prison.

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.

Despite this prohibition under international law, “Israeli occupying forces systematically transfer Palestinian detainees from inside the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, to locations inside Israel,” as Addameer states.

In March, the International Criminal Court announced that it had 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.

The prosecutor of the ICC said that the two are “allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.”

Though it has an open investigation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, 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.

Addameer said on Monday that “the long-awaited release of Palestinian women and child detainees took place amid widespread media restrictions, bans and threats against the documentation and celebration of prisoners’ release.”

Addameer added that released prisoners described to media “inhumane detention conditions, retaliatory collective punishment enacted against Palestinian prisoners by Israeli occupation authorities since 7 October, and serious threats of re-arrest and retaliation.”

The rights group stated that “many of the released Palestinian women and children were subject to assault, ill-treatment and the denial of critical medical care,” including women and children seriously injured upon their arrest.

“Palestinian women and child prisoners were released late at night in poor clothing with many of them barefoot,” according to Addameer.

The groups said that Israel is currently holding 7,000 Palestinian political prisoners, including 2,500 held without charge or trial under administrative detention orders.

Addameer called for “the release of all Palestinian political prisoners arbitrarily held in Israeli occupation prisons.”


Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.