War in the 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 continued its military offensive in the Gaza Strip, which has met with international criticism due to the high number of 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 think we’re 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.

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 could not initially 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.

Military holds ambulance convoy for seven hours

The UN emergency agency OCHA accused the Israeli military of holding up an ambulance convoy with 24 evacuated patients for seven hours. The military forced all patients who could walk and the paramedics out of the ambulances, reported OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke in Geneva. Among them were a pregnant woman and a mother with a newborn baby. The incident occurred in front of the Al Amal Hospital in Khan Yunis. The convoy was led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and was properly registered and approved.

“This is not an isolated case,” said Laerke. “Aid convoys are repeatedly shot at and systematically denied access to people in need.” When asked, the Israeli army said that there were two medics in the convoy who the military had arrested for possible involvement in terrorist activities.

EU Commissioner wants funding for UNRWA aid agency

Meanwhile, EU Commissioner Janez Lenarcic, who is responsible for humanitarian aid and crisis management, pushed for further funding for the criticized UN Palestinian Relief Agency (UNRWA). “We must recognize the risk environment in which UNRWA operates and not resort to collective punishment or contribute to further humanitarian collapse in the Gaza Strip,” Lenarcic told the EU Parliament in Strasbourg.

Germany and 15 other countries recently froze their payments to UNRWA. This was preceded by Israeli allegations that some of the organization’s employees were said to have been involved in the massacres in Israel on October 7th. The EU is working constructively with the aid organization to strengthen internal controls and check staff, said Lenarcic.

German frigate shoots down Houthi drones

Meanwhile, the frigate “Hessen”, which is deployed in the Red Sea to protect merchant ships, has fended off an attack by the Houthi militia operating from Yemen for the first time. According to information from the dpa, the ship involved in the EU military mission “Aspides” shot down two drones in quick succession in the evening.

It was the German Navy’s first use of live weapons in the operation that began on Friday and is considered the most dangerous naval mission in the history of the Bundeswehr. The Houthi militia, allied with Iran, wants to force an end to the Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip by shelling merchant ships in the Red Sea.

What is important today

Efforts to bring about a temporary ceasefire in the Gaza war continue. The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip remains catastrophic.

dpa

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