Israel-Hamas war: negotiation of daily pause a first step  

A woman carries a child as Palestinians fleeing north Gaza walk towards the south, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in the central Gaza Strip, November 9, 2023. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

In Doha, the first sign of hope in the Israel-Hamas war since the release of four hostages three weeks ago came on Thursday. The prime minister of Qatar hosted the intelligence chiefs of the United States and Israel, after which a temporary four-hour daily combat pause for humanitarian relief was announced by the White House.

The agreement reached on Thursday focused on regular humanitarian pauses to alleviate the suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, responding in part to global calls for a ceasefire. The potential next step would be a deal whereby Hamas releases over 100 foreign civilian hostages and all Israeli women and children kidnapped on October 7. In exchange, more than 100 Palestinian children and women reportedly held in Israeli prisons could gain freedom. However, negotiations on the hostage release have encountered a hurdle, with Israel insisting Hamas release captives in Gaza first.

Qatari and U.S. officials reveal that the hostage situation is more complex than initially reported with factions other than Hamas possibly holding some of the captives. The process of locating and liberating them from the labyrinthine caves under Gaza would require a pause in the fighting, something the Qataris have been repeatedly calling for.

Thursday’s breakthrough of a daily combat pause in the Israeli offence on Gaza followed a month of diplomacy, during which Qatar, despite its small size, played a significant role. CIA director William J. Burns and Mossad chief David Barnea met with Qatari prime minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani, who acted as a mediator with Hamas political leaders based in Qatar.

Qatar’s role as an intermediary is proving crucial for the U.S. and Israel, providing a channel for negotiations with Hamas. Prime minister Al-Thani said they were hoping to build upon this “positive first step” towards a longer and more sustainable solution.

“There are three kingmakers in this: the Israelis, the Americans and the Qataris” explained France24 foreign editor, Philip Turle. Of the ultimate goal, Turle asserted, “They are obviously trying to negotiate two things. The first one is the release of hostages. And the second thing is these humanitarian pauses.”

The daily combat pause was finally agreed to by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu following the spy chiefs’ meeting in Doha. A pause in the war, however brief, will give some civilians time to evacuate to a “safe zone, south of Gaza city”, Israeli prime minister Netanyahu told CNN.

“What we’re talking about here is a four-hour pause every day with a three-hour notice period ahead of time to let people get out of northern Gaza,” explains Turle. According to France24, a short ceasefire in return for the release of up to 12 hostages is still being discussed and negotiated. In a televised address Netanyahu exclaimed, “there is just one goal, and that is to win”, maintaining the IDF will not stop until the hostages are released.

While the strikes on Gaza rage on, the diplomatic arm-wrestle intensifies with leaders under increasing international pressure to agree to more than a humanitarian pause, with a ceasefire being the main focus as the death toll and destruction continues, killing over 10,000 Gazans and displacing some 1.6 million. The hope is that the pause saves lives and buys time to negotiate the release of those kidnapped by Hamas on October 7 but the prioritisation of negotiating a hostage release is made harder as the shadows of bombed hospitals loom large.

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