Israeli Cabinet approves ceasefire with Hamas that includes release of hostages
Israel’s Cabinet on Wednesday approved a ceasefire deal with the Hamas militant group that would bring a temporary halt to a devastating war that has stretched on for over six weeks.
Hamas will release dozens of hostages being held in the Gaza Strip in exchange for Palestinians in Israeli prisons.
Under the deal, Hamas is to free 50 of the roughly 240 hostages it is holding in the Gaza Strip over a four-day period, the Israeli government said on Wednesday.
It said it would extend the lull by an additional day for every 10 hostages released.
The government said the first hostages to be released would be women and children.
A statement released by Qatar, which mediates with Hamas, on Wednesday morning said the deal includes “the release of a number of Palestinian women and children detained in Israeli prisons, the number of those released will be increased in later stages of implementing the agreement,” and that it would allow additional humanitarian aid into Gaza.
The Israeli statement made no mention of either of these elements.
The statement from Qatar’s foreign ministry described the talks that produced the agreement as a mediation by Egypt, the US and Qatar for a “humanitarian pause,” adding that the start time of the truce will be announced within the next day.
Ahead of Wednesday morning’s cabinet vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would resume its offensive against Hamas after the ceasefire expires. It was not immediately clear when the truce would go into effect.
Mr Netanyahu convened his Cabinet for the vote late on Tuesday.
The meeting stretched well into the early hours on Wednesday, underscoring the sensitivity of a proposal that would suspend an Israeli offensive against Hamas before it has reached its goals.
Ahead of the vote, Mr Netanyahu sought to assure the government ministers that the break was only tactical, vowing to resume the offensive after the truce expires. Top security officials also attended the meeting.
“We are at war, and we will continue the war,” Mr Netanyahu said. “We will continue until we achieve all our goals.”
Israel has vowed to continue the war until it destroys Hamas’ military capabilities and returns all hostages.
Mr Netanyahu said that during the lull, intelligence efforts will be maintained, allowing the army to prepare for the next stages of battle. He said the battle would continue until “Gaza will not threaten Israel.”
The announcement came as Israeli troops battled Palestinian militants in an urban refugee camp in northern Gaza and around hospitals overcrowded with patients and sheltering families.
The deal does not mean an end to the war, which erupted on October 7 after Hamas militants stormed across the border into southern Israel and killed at least 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and kidnapped some 240 others.
In weeks of Israeli airstrikes and a ground invasion, more than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed, two-thirds of them women and minors, and more than 2,700 others are missing and believed to be buried under rubble, according to Gaza’s health ministry.
The ministry says it has been unable to update its count since November 11 because of the health sector’s collapse.
Gaza health officials say the toll has risen sharply since, and hospitals continue to report deaths from daily strikes, often dozens at a time.
United States President Joe Biden said in a statement late on Tuesday that he welcomes the agreement to release at least 50 hostages being held in Gaza and stressed that “it is important that all aspects of this deal be fully implemented.”
“I am extraordinarily gratified that some of these brave souls, who have endured weeks of captivity and an unspeakable ordeal, will be reunited with their families once this deal is fully implemented,” Mr Biden said.
He said the agreement should release some American hostages, and added, “I will not stop until they are all released.”
Mr Biden emphasised that Mr Netanyahu has committed to supporting an “extended pause” to make sure not only all hostages are released but that humanitarian assistance can be sent to Palestinians in Gaza.
“Today’s deal is a testament to the tireless diplomacy and determination of many dedicated individuals across the United States Government to bring Americans home,” Mr Biden said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Biden said a deal on releasing some hostages was “very close.”
Izzat Rishq, a senior Hamas official, said on Tuesday that an agreement could be reached “in the coming hours.”
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