Middle East: Hard work on ceasefire deal in Gaza war

There appears to be cautious optimism among mediators in the Gaza war. There is talk of “significant progress”. The news at a glance.

The international mediators in the Gaza war are continuing to work hard behind the scenes to achieve a temporary ceasefire and the release of hostages. Cautiously optimistic signals have recently come from the USA and Qatar, which together with Egypt facilitate indirect negotiations between Israel and the Islamist Hamas.

Meanwhile, Israel is continuing its military offensive in the Gaza Strip, which is met with international criticism because of the many civilian casualties and widespread destruction of homes and important infrastructure.

Cautious optimism among intermediaries

There has been “significant progress,” US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in Washington about the mediation efforts. “But it’s not all done yet. (…) The teams are working very, very hard on it, we believe we are getting closer (to an agreement).” A spokesman for the Qatari Foreign Ministry made a similar statement: “We remain optimistic, even if there are no special developments. Efforts continue, all sides are in constant contact with each other.”

The day before, US President Joe Biden expressed his confidence that a six-week ceasefire could come into force until the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The festival period, which is particularly sacred to Muslims, begins around March 10th. “It’s not about using force to get it done by Ramadan, it’s about getting the two sides to close the deal,” Kirby said.

The contours of a possible agreement are now becoming increasingly clear. During the six-week ceasefire, Hamas was to release almost 40 Israeli hostages in return for around 400 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, the Israeli television station Channel 12 reported, citing government circles.

The plan therefore calls for 7 Israeli civilians to be exchanged for 21 Palestinian security prisoners. For every 5 Israeli soldiers, 90 Palestinian prisoners would be released, 15 of whom were convicted of serious terrorist attacks. 15 male hostages over the age of 50 would be exchanged for 90 additional Palestinian prisoners, 13 male hostages with serious illnesses or injuries would be exchanged for another 156 Palestinian prisoners. In addition, 40 other Palestinians are to be released who were released in 2011 in an exchange for the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas, and who have since been returned to Israeli custody.

However, Israel remains pessimistic that a quick agreement will be reached, Channel 12 reported. Hamas, in turn – as a spokesman in Beirut emphasized – is sticking to its demand for a permanent ceasefire, which Israel does not want to accept. The Jewish state wants to reserve the option of continuing the war to completely destroy Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The mediating states, in turn, see an initially temporary ceasefire as an opportunity to reach a comprehensive peace solution in further negotiations.

Egypt’s President: Hope for a ceasefire

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi expressed hope that a ceasefire agreement could be reached within days. This will allow real help to be provided to the people in the densely populated coastal strip in various areas, the Egyptian head of state said at an event broadcast by Al Qahera News TV.

Al-Sisi also emphasized that his country had never closed the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip. But you have to be careful in the current situation. “It was very important to us from day one that the Rafah border crossing would be a route for aid deliveries,” continued Al-Sisi. Egypt, which became the first Arab country to sign a peace agreement with Israel in 1979, is worried about a possible mass exodus of refugees from the Gaza Strip towards Egypt.

Almost 30,000 dead in the Gaza war

The Gaza war was triggered by an unprecedented massacre carried out by terrorists from Hamas and other extremist groups in southern Israel on October 7th. On the Israeli side, more than 1,200 people were killed. Israel responded with massive air strikes and a ground offensive.

Meanwhile, the Israeli armed forces expanded their operations in the city of Gaza. Ground troops, with the support of the air force, took action against Hamas combat units and Islamist terrorist militia facilities in the Seitun district, the military said. Among other things, the soldiers came across a weapons production facility, a weapons depot, rocket launch sites and military equipment. They also reportedly discovered a group of Hamas fighters in a tunnel entrance, whereupon they destroyed the shaft and killed the Hamas men. The information cannot yet be independently verified.

Meanwhile, the Hamas-controlled health authority reported that 96 Palestinians had been killed and another 172 injured in the past 24 hours as a result of fighting in the Gaza Strip. Since the Gaza war began on October 7, 29,878 people have died and a further 70,215 have been injured. The information, which cannot be independently verified, makes no distinction between civilians and armed fighters. However, the authority points out that a high proportion of victims are women, minors and older men.

Hamas fires rockets from Lebanon into Israel

Hamas says it fired dozens of rockets from Lebanon into Israel. The organization’s armed wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, said 40 rockets were fired at the towns of Kiriat Shmona and Beit Hillel in northern Israel. It was a retaliatory operation for Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon that targeted military facilities, the statement said.

The Israeli military said an air alarm had been sounded in Kiriat Shmona. Around ten rockets crossed the border from Lebanon into Israel. A number of these were successfully intercepted. In response, the launch sites in Lebanon were shelled. In addition, Israeli warplanes attacked a weapons depot and other military facilities belonging to the Shiite organization Hezbollah. A Hezbollah weapons production facility was bombed that night. Lebanese security sources confirmed the Israeli attacks.

Hostage relatives begin march to Jerusalem

Former hostages held in the Gaza Strip and the relatives of those still held there began a four-day march to Jerusalem. The group set off from the town of Reim near the Gaza Strip on Wednesday morning, said the Hostage Families Forum, which is organizing the march.

According to the information, the starting point was the location of the Nova music festival. Terrorists from Hamas and other extremist Palestinian organizations murdered 364 people there in their massacre on October 7 last year and kidnapped dozens from the party to the Gaza Strip.

The march is expected to run through several cities and end in Jerusalem on Saturday. Dozens of participants can be seen in Israeli media footage. Organizers called on people in Israel to join the march. “We have no more words, no more strength,” said the parents of a man held in the Gaza Strip at a press conference just before the start of the march, according to the Hostage Families Forum. They couldn’t even imagine the nightmare their son was going through.

In total, Hamas is still holding 134 hostages in the Gaza Strip, of which, according to Israeli estimates, just over 100 are still alive.

dpa

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