A temporary cease-fire agreement to facilitate the release of dozens of people taken hostage during Hamas’ raid on Israel is expected to bring the first respite to war-weary Palestinians in Gaza and a glimmer of hope to the families of the captives.
After hitting a last-minute snag, the deal was expected to take effect on Friday, a day later than originally planned. Under its terms, Israel and Hamas agreed to a four-day halt in hostilities. Palestinian prisoners held by Israel would also be freed as part of the agreement.
The deal was brokered by Qatar, the U.S. and Egypt and announced on Wednesday. It capped weeks of fitful indirect negotiations and set the stage for a tense period that could determine the course of the war, which was set off by Hamas’ Oct. 7 raid.
Israel, Hamas and Qatar have released different details of the agreement, but those details do not appear to contradict one another.
WHAT’S IN THE DEAL?
Qatar announced that 50 hostages will be released in exchange for what Hamas said would be 150 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. Those freed by both sides will be women and minors.
The plan is for the hostages, part of the 240 people abducted last month, to be released in bursts throughout the cease-fire. Once the first batch is released, Israel is expected to free the first group of Palestinian prisoners.
Those prisoners include many teenage boys detained during a wave of violence in the West Bank in 2022 or 2023 and charged with offenses such as stone-throwing or disturbing public order, according to a list of eligible prisoners published by Israel’s Justice Ministry. Israel currently holds nearly 7,000 Palestinians accused or convicted of security offenses.
Israel said the truce would be extended by a day for every 10 additional hostages released.
Qatar said Israel would also allow more fuel and humanitarian aid into Gaza, but did not provide details.
Hamas said hundreds of trucks carrying humanitarian aid and fuel are to be allowed to enter Gaza every day as part of the deal. Supplies would also reach northern Gaza, the focus of Israel’s ground offensive, for the first time, Hamas said.
Israel’s government statement did not refer to increased aid and fuel deliveries. Israeli Channel 12 TV reported that as part of the deal, Israel will allow a “significant” amount of fuel and humanitarian supplies into Gaza, but did not specify how much.
Israel has severely limited the amount of aid, especially fuel, allowed into Gaza during the war, prompting dire shortages of water, food and fuel to run generators.
The fighting is expected to come to a temporary halt: Israeli jets and troops will hold their fire, while militants are expected to refrain from firing rockets at Israel.
Hamas said Israel’s warplanes would stop flying over southern Gaza during the four-day truce and for six hours daily over the north. Israel made no mention of halting flights, and it wasn’t clear if this would include its sophisticated intelligence drones, which have been a constant presence over Gaza.
WHAT’S BEEN LEFT OUT?
While several families will be thrilled to have their loved ones back, a significant number of hostages will likely remain in Hamas captivity, including men, women, older people and foreign nationals. The families who are not included in the current deal are likely to keep up the pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to try to secure their own loved ones’ release with a future deal.
The plight of the families has gripped Israelis, and they have widespread support.
Netanyahu said Wednesday that under the deal, the International Committee of the Red Cross will visit the remaining hostages and provide them with any medicine they need. Neither Hamas nor the Red Cross confirmed that.
While the cease-fire will grant Palestinians in Gaza a brief calm, the hundreds of thousands who have fled the combat zone and headed south are not expected to be able to return home. Israeli troops are expected to remain in their positions in northern Gaza.
WHAT ARE THE DEAL’S POSSIBLE IMPLICATIONS?
The deal offers only a short break in the fighting. Israel, which has made destroying Hamas and saving the captives its goals, is expected to continue where it left off once the four days wrap up.
Netanyahu said that the cease-fire will allow the army to prepare for the continued fighting and will not harm its war effort — and that the war would continue once it expires.
When it does, airstrikes will likely resume and troops will continue their push throughout northern Gaza before their expected foray into the south at an unknown time. Gaza residents will have to brace for a resumption of hostilities.
A break in fighting would also grant Hamas time to strategize, shift around militant positions and perhaps regroup after Israel claimed it had killed large numbers of fighters and destroyed many of the group’s military assets.
The staggered nature of the deal also opens the door for Hamas to up its demands on the fly, in the hopes that Israel would make more concessions to release more hostages.
Yehya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in Gaza and presumed mastermind of the Oct. 7 attack, could also try to turn a four-day pause in fighting into a longer cease-fire by offering to release more hostages. A longer truce would make it harder for Israel to restart the war, both operationally and in the eyes of global public opinion.
The Israeli government would face growing domestic pressure to secure the release of more hostages. Families left out of the current deal will only become more determined to see their loved ones freed once they’ve seen the first groups leave captivity.