Israel under pressure over next move in Gaza

World

Barring any more breaches of the ceasefire, the Gaza truce should hold for at least two days.

There are thought to be enough women and children hostages in Gaza for Hamas to eke out another two after that. The Americans are reportedly hoping for a longer one that could start seeing men being let out too.

Israelis say Hamas is acting cynically, dangling the fate of some of the youngest hostages to drag this out longer.

Follow the latest in the Israel-Hamas war

Hamas reportedly says its knows the whereabouts of the Bibas boys aged nine months and four years but there is no sign of them being released imminently. Hamas calls this a humanitarian pause. There is nothing humanitarian about that.

By whatever means Hamas wants the truce to go on longer, hoping in the extra time something will come up that might end Israel’s onslaught. Israel is willing to give it a few more days. One of its stated war aims is getting back the hostages.

But Israeli officials insist the only way to persuade their enemy to yield all its captives is to maintain military pressure. By that logic, they will start doing so again, even while many of the hostages remain in the hands of the enemy.

While the guns remain silent, intense diplomatic activity is under way. US secretary of state Anthony Blinken is on his way back to the region. His priorities – to make sure more aid reaches Gaza, the hostages are released and also to seek “protections for civilians”.

Israel’s American and European allies are increasingly worried about the last part and what happens when this truce ends and the fighting resumes.

Israel wants to eradicate Hamas. It claims to have killed around 5,000 Hamas fighters in an operation that has lasted almost two months and cost as many as 15,000 civilian lives. There are thought to be as much as 25,000 fighters left. By that arithmetic obliterating Hamas could take us well into next year with many thousands more civilians killed.

That will be hard for America to stomach. Joe Biden is already facing trouble from the left of his party over the death toll. Two weeks ago, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said “too many civilians are losing their lives”.

That pressure will continue to build.

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Hostage on being held captive by Hamas

Read more:
The 51 Israeli hostages freed so far
Why is Qatar involved in hostage negotiations?
Four-day truce enters final 24 hours

Israel is thought to have urged the UN to build a tent city in open land to the west of Khan Younis to accommodate the exodus expected when its troops move into the south of Gaza.

The UN is reportedly unwilling to facilitate any mass movement of Gazans particularly after Israeli government minister Avi Dichter said Israel was “rolling out Nakba 2023”.

Nakba, or catastrophe, in Arabic is what Palestinians call their mass displacement in the war of 1948.

The weather is worsening, winter is coming, Gaza’s health services are buckling. There are already reports of dysentery and humanitarian organisations are unanimous in saying the temporary reprieve is not nearly enough. The prospect of Israel resuming operations and moving tanks and troops south is causing deep alarm among diplomats and international organisations.

Mr Blinken will want assurances about the forthcoming operation but also what happens next. The Biden administration is reportedly frustrated the Israelis do not seem to have a plan for the day after.

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